Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Blow for Bafana: Thulani Serero out until Christmas

Double Dutch : Thulani Serero scored twice for Ajax against Herenveen

These two bleak paragraphs about Thulani Serero, translated from the original Dutch on the official Ajax Amsterdam website, came as a major blow to Bafana Bafana boss Gordon Igesund yesterday.

“The groin injury that Thulani Serero sustained in the match against ADO Den Haag is Monday investigated. An MRI scan a tear in the groin muscle shows.

“The midfielder is therefore not usable until the winter break. His recovery in the coming months through rehabilitation at Ajax will take place.”

In effect, though it sounds like the rantings of Star Wars Jedi Master Yoda, this means 22-year-old Serero is now a serious doubt for South Africa’s AFCON2013 kick-off at Soccer City on January 19 – on the very day tickets for the African Cup of Nations went on sale in the host nation.

Serero, the PSL’s Player of the Season in 2011 before he was plucked from Cape Town to Amsterdam by Ajax management, played a major role in Igesund’s new South Africa during the gallant 1-0 defeat against Brazil in Sao Paulo, and the subsequent 2-0 win over Mozambique in Mbombela.

If he is sidelined until Holland’s midweek break – as Ajax’s headline “Serero tot winterstop uitgeschakeld" suggests – Serero is unlikely to be fit for the big kick-off.

Though another former Ajax product Steven Pienaar – denied a part in Igesund’s baptism when Everton announced he had a thigh injury – may be considered Bafana’s senior professional, Serero is the next big thing in Holland and South Africa. He scored twice against Herenveen last month and is becoming a major favourite at the 52,000-capacity Amsterdam Arena.

The Ere Divisie winter break takes place from December 23 to January 17.

My old World Cup pal Ed Aarons spoke to Serero after the Ajax announcement and was told: “We're still going for more tests, so it's not confirmed how long I will be out for at the moment.

“The doctors will tell me what they think and I will just have to do my best to get back as soon as possible. Of course it is frustrating because I was just starting to play regularly and was feeling comfortable in the team. But that's football … it happens.”

Serero will now miss South Africa’s warm-ups against Poland and Kenya in October.

Despite an apparent chaotic last-minute turnaround in his fixture list, SAFA have decided to face the Poles despite Igesund saying: “We have the African Nations Cup coming up, so I wanted to play against African opponents, not European teams.

“Playing against Poland would not be great benefit when we’ve got to get used to playing against African teams.”

But with tickets for the game already sold and still advertised on the Polish FA website, SAFA insist Bafana MUST play in Poland on October 12 despite Igesund’s misgivings… without Serero.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Bird-watching: A morning with Zeca Marques, MTN8 winner and all-round good guy

Trophy hunters: Chase Carneson, Zeca Marques and I at eTV Sunrise on Monday
WHEN Moroka Swallows boss Zeca Marques celebrated the Dube Birds’ flyaway 2-1 success in the MTN8 final on Saturday night, the sharp-eyed may have noticed a smiling Gordon Igesund in the background, gently clapping his hands in appreciation of a job well done.

While the busy little figure of Gavin Hunt was putting on a brave face after seeing his SuperSport United throw away a 1-0 lead, the stage belonged to Marques, who has now - officially - earned the nick-name Majazana for throwing his much-dry-cleaned jacket about in celebration.

I had the privilege of appearing with Marques, 51, on the eTV Sunrise couch yesterday morning; we discovered we’d played against each other in the 1980s, he for Troyeville, me for Berea Park. And we dug deep in to his footballing philosophy in the guest room while we waited to appear with the glittering MTN8 trophy.

Marques, born in Portugal but raised in Johannesburg, is keen on forging links with Porto, his hometown club, and he’s eager to send top young Swallows to Europe, while bringing useful young professionals to Dobsonville from abroad.

He wants to see a return to the days of local clubs drawing local crowds in local leagues. He wants to find centre-backs who know how to clear the ball, not get caught in possession. He is full of fresh ideas and positive energy.

But it’s when he talks about his team, his job, his new life, you start to realise what a special bloke Marques is: “I live by the three Fs,” he explains, “Firm, Fair, Friendly. I want my lads to enjoy training. I want them to see me as a father figure, not just a disciplinarian. The days of treating the players like robots is over.

“I sent them all a text yesterday and you should have seen their replies. What I realised, winning my first trophy after just two months in charge, is that we have a special family in the Bird’s nest. A spirit, a togetherness.” 

But Bafana Bafana boss Igesund, the man who took the Birds from fast-failing fledglings to title-tilting titans in less than a season, deserves a share of Saturday night’s success, the first since Swallows lifted the Nedbank Cup three years ago.

Though he was lured away to coach the national team during the off-season, Igesund can look proudly on a squad which includes so many of the rejects, veterans and cast-offs he forged in to a teak-tough team last season.

Marques, Igesund’s former No 2, said: “Gordon and I are friends. We talk all the time. Even though he is the international manager, we exchange advice both ways. Working under him was a vital step in my career.

“You can't change a winning formula. Youth is great, but you have to have balance. There's a vision with the club, and we know the older players won't last forever, so we're building the youngsters up slowly.”

And of course, Swallows are fashionable again. After years of flapping about in the footballing wilderness, Igesund and Marques have the Birds soaring again. Marques grinned: “People tended to forget about Swallows. “The Birds” has a lot of history but it’s been a while. 

“I think with this MTN8 win, the players can start believing. We can compete with ,  the best teams in the league, and we've got to believe that. 

“I have a technical team and they make my life easy. There's a game-plan for all of us. It's a new lease of life for the Swallows. This is not the last trophy we’ll bring to Dobsonville. It's just the first.”

A shorter version of this story appeared as my Neal and Pray column in The New Age newspaper today. Read The New Age every Tuesday, watch eTV Sunrise and eNCAnews every Monday - and in my new role as a radio producer, tune in to Early Breakfast on 702 and CapeTalk every day.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The senseless murder of world heavyweight champion Corrie Sanders: eye-witness account, his last interview... and moving tributes

Tragic: Corrie Sanders

CORRIE SANDERS, the man who stunned the boxing world when he defeated Wladimir Klitschko to win the WBO heavyweight title in 2003, died this morning in hospital after being shot at his nephew’s 21st birthday party.
The death of one of South Africa’s most popular sportsmen, aged 46, rocked the nation on Sunday morning as news of his death spread through the social networks.
He was the victim of a random shooting when three armed men raided the restaurant at Thatch Haven Country Lodge, just off Carel de Wet Road near Brits outside Pretoria. Latest reports suggest he was shot when he stood up to protect his family. Sanders died this morning after emergency surgery at Kalafong Hospital this morning.
An eye-witness, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me this morning: “Corrie was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They shot him in the stomach. There was also a wound in his arm. I’m not sure if it was all from the same bullet.”
His wife Sunette told reporters later: "I think he died a hero. He went to protect his girl because there were shots." She also said the robbers were "kicking and slapping people" as they entered the restaurant.
As tributes to the fallen champion flooded Twitter, my eye-witness, a close friend of the family, said: “We were at Thatch Haven near Brits to celebrate with Corrie’s brother Mike. His son, also Mike, is 21 next week.
“There were 48 people at the restaurant, it’s just off the main road. We arrived at around 4pm on Saturday. At about 6pm, as it was getting dark, Mike gave a speech. Then the grandfather stood up and offered a prayer.
“That’s when we heard three or four shots. At first we thought it was the kids playing around. Then we realised it was serious.
“There were three of them. Armed with pistols. They were telling everyone to lie down and give them their wallets and mobile phones. They didn’t take much. They were working their way through the room when a car alarm went off outside and they panicked and ran.
“Corrie was the only one shot. He didn’t try anything heroic as far as I could see. He was just in the wrong place, by the entrance. They shot him through the stomach and I also saw a wound in his arm, it might have been from the same bullet, which went right through him.
"I think they shot him as a lesson to the rest of us, to say they were serious.
“We called the ambulance. The NetCare people were very good, even though Corrie didn’t have any medical insurance. They operated in the hospital, but he died early this morning.
“I would say this. The function was not advertised anywhere. How did they know what was going on? Some people say security had been speaking to these men earlier. We are all still in shock. I don’t want to be quoted on this. It’s too awful.”

Cornelius Johannes Sanders was born on January 7, 1966 in Pretoria. He began fighting in 1989, aged 23 and won his first 23 professional bouts, 15 of them knock-outs.
Among his victims: future WBO cruiserweight champion Johnny Nelson and future world title challenger Bert Cooper. Despite his first defeat in 1994 against Nate Tubbs - a second round knockout – he went on to beat former world cruiserweight champion Carlos De León with a first round knock-out and a second round knockout over another former world champion, Bobby Czyz.
Defeat against future heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman - controversially - saw southpaw Sanders gain a reputation for vulnerability. But that all changed a year later. After fighting three rounds in two years, he gained was given a surprise tilt at the world heavyweight title against Klitschko in Hanover, Gemany, on 8 March 2003 after Danny Williams withdrew at the last minute.
Against all the odds, he put the huge Ukrainian down four times and won on a second-round knock-out to take Wladimir’s WBO belt.
Corrie took on big brother Vitali Klitschko in an attempt to grab the vacant WBC heavyweight crown on April 24, 2004, at Staples Centre in Los Angeles but was stopped in the eighth round.
Sanders never quite recovered his world title form and after a series of retirements finally gave up boxing with a record of 42 fights, four defeats and 31 knock-outs.
Interviewed by the Sunday Tribune’s Lungami Zami at a golf day earlier this month, Sanders said: “I thought that I could have gone for a shot at a world title much earlier. I always felt that my promoter, Rodney Berman, kept me wrapped in cotton-wool for too long, and by the time I got my shot, I was already 38.
“I do motivational talks and things like that at schools and in companies, and I must say that it always makes me very proud to go out and meet all the great people in this wonderful country of ours.
“I loved this country too much to move to the US like other boxers. It might sound strange, but I felt I had more black fans than white. I think the two big sports in the black community are boxing and soccer, and whenever I was out and about, they would stop me and want to chat. That was always very humbling.
“Being based here was a bit easier in that sense, because being a boxer is not easy on your family. My wife watched only a few of my fights live, and preferred to tape them, and then watch them once she knew what the result was.”
“I was blessed to have the family I have, and even though my kids were really young during my career, they have a lot of memories to fall back on."
Sanders played golf of a handicap of just three and said: “I’m a member at Pecanwood, as well as the Els Club. Golf was something I did to relax, and I got down to a one and scratch at a point, but these days it’s not as consistent.”
And on his monumental upset against Klitschko, Sanders said: “My mate, Naas Botha, always says to me that whatever happens in life, no one can ever take that away from me.
“A few people have come together and there is a proper gym being built in Midstream. When it opens, I will be in there, trying to help find our next world champion.”
Tributes to a much-loved South African sporting hero poured in with Springbok rugby player Breyton Paulse twittering: “Gone too soon,” and Olympic gold medallist Cameron van der Burg adding: “Rest in peace Corrie. A champion of the world.”
Former Springbok captain John Smit tweeted: "Just woke up to news of Corrie Sanders having been murdered last night, what another senseless waste of life in SA. RIP Champion."
Former Proteas cricketer Pat Symcox said: "Feel sick to the core. Just so damn angry over Corrie's murder. A helpless feeling and one that wants to scream out." Former captain Shaun Pollock twittered: "Tragic news about Corrie Sanders. My thoughts are with his family. RIP."
Former Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates star Mark Fish said: "So sad to hear about the tragic death of SA boxing great and a true gentleman Corrie Sanders. Condolences to all his family."
Sports reporter David Isaacson said: "Harold Volbrecht had a small gym, Corrie and Msukisi Sikali were stable-mates and world champs together. Both murdered. Shocking."
Radio presenter Darren Scott pulled no punches. He tweeted: "To the sons of bitches who murdered my friend Corrie Sanders. I hope you fucking rot in hell."

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A short chat with Julius Malema about football: and I lived to tell the tale

Never mind the quality: me and Julius Malema
I thought about calling this one "my meeting with the miner monster" but that would be so unfair I'd have to self-destruct. My quick chat with South Africa's most controversial character Julius Malema was quite the opposite.

He'd turned up at 702, South Africa's lively talk radio station, for an interview with the award-winning breakfast host  John Robbie.

All kinds of trouble was expected. Two days before, the ousted African National Congress Youth League leader had been subjected to what he called "police brutality" when he tried to talk to the striker miners at Marikana. He earned a helicopter escort back down the N4 to Pretoria.

Yesterday he turned up in glitzy Sandton to tell the media that President Jacob Zuma was out to kill him: "If we die tomorrow or any time soon, we would have been killed by Jacob Zuma and his people, who do not have the interests and aspirations of the people at heart. 

"Jacob Zuma is inherently insecure and forever threatened by our presence in this world."

And he wasn't gentle on Mr Robbie. He told the former British Lions rugby star: "You sound like people who opposed our struggle for freedom.You are arguing exactly like they argued, that we cannot run the economy... I am telling you that it can sound difficult until it is done.

"Why are you not having a problem with Botswana owning 51 percent of their mines? I'm not calling for wholesale, blanket nationalisation."

And when John asked him about the prospect of arrest, Malema responded: "I hear that from you at the start of the programme. I hear that from papers. I've been 'getting arrested' since 2009.

"But as far as I know, I have done nothing wrong."

So when I came across the notorious JuJu sitting quietly in the corridor, without a bodyguard in sight, I expected a savaging when I stuck out my hand and introduced myself.

But amid broad smiles - and the hastily arranged photograph above - Malema found time to tell me of his love for Orlando Pirates since his formative years, and he said: "Roger de Sa, the new man, he's a good coach. He'll do well for the Buccaneers. We're always winning trophies He is a tough man, he can do the job!

"And I like the new Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund too. Another good selection. Watch us improve now."

And with that he was whisked away... but not before destroying any preconceptions. The bloke is no monster. No mere rabble-rouser. He's going places. He can handle police brutality, political expulsion and tough interviews.

I think it might be time for a major rethink before Manguang. 

Max Du Preez offers these "top ten" Julius Malema quotes:

1 On himself: “I’m an ordinary young person who’s grown up here in South Africa, from a township, who has no intention – none whatsoever – to scare people.”

2 On Zuma's education: “Zuma was taught by people on the ground. He is the most educated president. Economics is simple – put bread on the table.”

3 On politicians who can be replaced: “Politicians are the easiest to replace . . . we will move forward and they will carry on with the programmes which are there.”

4 On a two-thirds majority: “We are tired of a two-thirds majority. Our aim is a ‘three-thirds’ majority.”

5 On being a decoy: “I was the decoy. While Helen Zille was calling me names, Jacob Zuma was sprinting to the Union Buildings.”

6 On Nando’s: “I don’t know what’s happening with Nando’s. We are running this country and we cannot be concerned about chickens.”

7 On the ANCYL: “We are in a political laboratory; never blame us if we make mistakes, we are [just] learning.”

8 Opinion on DA leader Helen Zille: "Helen Zille is a political toddler."

9 On Naledi Pandor: "Let the minister use that fake accent to address our problems and behave like a spoilt minister."

10 On the Jacob Zuma sex trial: "In the morning, that lady requested breakfast and taxi money. You can't ask for money from somebody who raped you."

Monday, 17 September 2012

Hail of fame: Baxter's AmaKhosi ready to ride the storm

Hail the Chiefs: fans face charges for ice dancing
ABANDONED. It’s not the most cheerful word in the English language. It brings to mind tiny lifeboats lost in a stormy sea, babies left in hospital doorways.

And it’s not the happiest word in football either – especially if you’re a Kaizer Chiefs fan waiting for Wednesday night’s replay of their abandoned PSL clash with Leopards at Soccer City (kick-off 7.30pm, live on SuperSport4).

Oh, how the AmaKhosi will suffer if they don’t claim all three points. There they were, cruising at 2-0 after 34 minutes on Saturday night, when the early-summer Highveld storm hit Johannesburg. One minute Chiefs were stroking the ball around a green sward, the next hail had turned the pitch in to a winter wonderland.

The ice had barely melted by the time Stuart Baxter came out on the club’s official website insisting: “We will show the same winning intent.”

But there was no question of play continuing on Saturday when the clouds broke. Daniel Bennett, the nation’s top referee, led the charge to the sanctuary of the dressing rooms, declaring the surface unfit and potentially dangerous.

As unruly fans drew an unnecessary PSL disciplinary charge for larking about in the ice, match commissioner Stan Swart was a crest-fallen man. He said: “We tried clearing the lines but that didn’t work. Then we tried to get the pitch remarked but it was too wet. We had no choice but to ask the teams to replay the game.”

And of course, under SAFA law 8.14 – a rule followed in most FIFA nations – that means the match will be the full 90 minutes, started again at 0-0. Had they managed to get back on the pitch and finish the game on Saturday, they would have restarted from 2-0 up in the 35th minute. Bemused Kaizer Chiefs fans are furious.

A cunning Leopards sangoma may be cackling away hysterically somewhere up north, but in Soweto everybody wants to know what happens to the two marvellous goals scored by Bernard Parker and Kingston Nkhatha before the hail came down.

The sad truth is that Parker’s magnificent free-kick has now been scrubbed from the records. And ‘Cijimpi’ Nkhatha’s  second, neatly constructed, will not feature either.

Though television producers are free to screen Parker’s strike as a contender for Goal of the Month, it won’t count if Parker – who scored four against Amazulu in the opening game of the season and two for Bafana against Mozambique a week ago – is in the running for PSL top scorer.

So Chiefs have to do it all again on Wednesday, knowing the Orlando Pirates – under controversial new coach Roger De Sa – had seen off Platinum Stars 1-0 thanks to a disputed Andile Jali penalty and an early red card.

That puts Pirates level with Chiefs on seven points, one short of promoted shock-troops AmaTuks, Maritzburg United and Free State Stars. Moroka Swallows, after their shock loss against Pretoria’s Clever Boys on Friday night – are on six points with SuperSport United and Bloemfontein Celtic.

Hard as it is to find a positive side to this awful word abandoned, there is one consolation for deflated Chiefs fans. Eric “Tower” Mathoho may be available for the replay.

He was ruled out of Saturday night’s clash following the death of his uncle, David Galananzhele Mathoho, who passed away last Wednesday after a long illness. Mathoho was given permission by the club to attend the funeral.

Siphiwe Tshabalalala, rested after his Bafana duties against Brazil and Mozambique, could also be ready by Wednesday night.

A frustrated Baxter said on “It is difficult when a game is postponed and rescheduled - it changes our entire program - but as professionals we will have to prepare now for Wednesday. Leopards were always going to be tougher and they will not be different come Wednesday as for us we need to go out and finish the business.

“We would have loved to continue playing after the storm but then it was difficult to do so as the hail could not be removed without removing the lines.

“The players are obviously disappointed that the game was postponed but it was due to natural cause. I am confident that they will show the same intent on the pitch.”

As for Tshabalala and Mathoho, Baxter said: “We will make a decision this week but I was pleased with what I saw in the 30 minutes or so that we played and we will have to build on that.”

But anything less than victory on Wednesday will leave the Amakhosi with understandable feelings of injustice.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Abandoned: If Bernard Parker is upset, imagine how seven-goal Denis Law felt!

Winter wonderland: Soccer City on Saturday night after the hail storm

KAIZER CHIEFS fans are understandably annoyed about Saturday night's hail storm, which saw their game against Leopards abandoned after 34 minutes at Soccer City.

When referee Daniel Bennett took the players off, Chiefs were leading 2-0 with a superb free-kick from Bernard Parker followed by a neat strike from Kingston Nkhatha.

If the players had got back on the ground on Saturday night, the match would have resumed with Chiefs 2-0 up 10 minutes before half-time.

But because match commissioner Stan Swart was unable to clear the surface, they'll have to replay Leopards on Wednesday night at Soccer City, kick-off 8.15pm.

And under SAFA rule 8.14 they will start at 0-0, 90 minutes to play. While I suspect certain sangomas are cackling away happily up north, my Twitter ( and Facebook feeds have been awash with aggrieved AmaKhosi claiming this is unfair. And if have to agree.

But if Parker feels hard done by, consider the case of the great Denis Law on January 28, 1961.
Playing for Manchester City against Luton Town, the Scotland legend scored a record SIX goals in an FA Cup tie – but his performance (and the 6-2 scoreline) was rubbed from the record books when the game was abandoned after 69 minutes due to a waterlogged pitch.

On February 1 the game was replayed – and Luton won 3-1. The scorer that day? A very unhappy Denis Law!

The statisticians claim Law is the only man to score seven times and lose a game. They also point out that those six goals would have him the 20th century’s leading FA Cup goal-scorer. Instead, that record went to Liverpool’s Ian Rush (44) with Law second on 41.

Read the full story of Kaizer Chiefs sense of abandonment in in my Neal & Pray column on Tuesday.

You can also see my assessment of the weekend's action in South Africa and abroad during Classic Play on eTV Sunrise, DSTV 134, tomorrow morning at 7.15am.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Gordon Igesund: I want Bafana Bafana to be a machine

At the double: Bernard Parker scored twice at Mbombela

“By the the time the African Cup of Nations starts in January, I want us to be a machine.”
With that exquisite phrase, Gordon Igesund ended the first chapter of football’s Mission Impossible last night. And the verdict on Bafana Bafana’s new era? Even the dimmest doubters must admit South Africa’s much-maligned football team have taken the first tiny steps on a rocky road to recovery.
When he took the job three months ago, Igesund was told he had several improbable tasks to complete: a place in the semi-finals of next year’s AFCON 2013 on home soil, qualification for Brazil 2014 and a return to the top three in African football.
After Pitso Mosimane’s chaotic reign, such targets looked unlikely. Some said impossible. Igesund took one look at the mission statement and said: “I’ll do it.”
And what was he handed as his opening gambit? An away game against five-time World Cup winners Brazil followed by a home game against Mozambique four days later. I remember our first chat after his appointment, Gordon asking me to spell “Maracana” at a The New Age Business Briefing. He hadn’t even been told where his opening game would be played, but he knew he had the toughest of starts, a footballing baptism of fire.
Unfazed, Igesund went to work… and the results of his never-say-never optimism are now available. A gutsy 1-0 defeat against the Brazilians was followed by a clinical 2-0 triumph over neighbours Mozambique.
On paper, that may look average. In truth, Igesund has already accomplished miracles. Remember, they took on an under-pressure Brazil on their biggest national holiday with coach Mano Menezes desperate for a rousing victory.
With Siya Sangweni keeping Neymar quiet and Itumeleng Khune pulling off five good saves, it was left to substitute Hulk to produce the only goal late in the game - but it was Bafana Bafana who took the applause from the 52,000 unhappy Brazilians as the sides went off.
Three days later, Neymar scored a hat-trick as the same Brazilians crushed China 8-0. Yup, eight. If that wasn’t enough to keep the doubters quiet, the people insisting “you can’t celebrate defeat”, then what is? It’s not as if the Chinese haven’t got plenty of people to choose from or enough experience when it comes to building bloody big defensive walls.
Scroll forward to Tuesday night at Mbombela. South Africa, having travelled 7,441km from Sao Paulo, came up against a Mozambique fresh from a 2-0 AFCON win over Morocco a mere 205kms away in Maputo.
Igesund knew he was in for a tough night. But instead of tip-toeing about, he dropped Friday’s man of the match Itumeleng Khune and risked a huge Kaizer Chiefs v Orlando Pirates civil war by putting Moeneeb Josephs in goal. The same larger-than-life Bucaneer who had retired in disgust when Pitso was in charge of Bafana.
And despite having lost Tokelo Rantie, Siyabonga Nomvethe, Steven Pienaar, Edward Manqele, Dino Ndlovu and Benni McCarthy to injury, Igesund stuck with the depleted squad who had endured the flight from Brazil. He declined the offer of reinforcements to keep the mood in the camp buoyant.
And it worked. Though many will question Mozambique’s decision to make eight changes from the side that beat Morocco – including Mamelodi Sundowns’ talismanic Elias Pelembe who scored one and made one in Maputo on Sunday – Bafana barely put a foot wrong.
Bernard Parker, the Kaizer Chiefs striker who opened the season with a four-goal burst against Amazulu, scored one early and one late to ensure a clinical 2-0 victory over the nation’s eastern neighbours.
Suddenly the doubters were silenced. Those who questioned everything Gordon had done – from getting rid of Thomas Madigage’s hat to leaving Teko Modise at home – were left without a leg to stand on.
His decision to select the unknown Dean Furman – an unused sub for Joel Santana’s Bafana against Australia in 2008 – from English Championship club Oldham Athletic proved inspired. Reformed alcoholic Lerato Chabangu, rubbished as a “coach’s favourite” from his days at Moroka Swallows, was magnificent in Sao Paulo and Mbombela.
The surprise decision to make Spurs reject Bongani Khumalo his captain worked like a charm and Ajax Amsterdam’s Thulani Serero once more showed the nation he could become the fulcrum over the coming months.
But Igesund refused to crow about successfully completing the first leg of his Mission Impossible. He said simply: “I didn’t want to mention this before the game, but we had to travel through four time zones for this game. The lads didn’t know whether it was day or night. Our sleeping patterns are all over the place.
“Look, it wasn’t a great performance tonight. We lost possession too often, we wanted more goals, but I have to say I’m satisfied. The bodies were tired, the legs were wobbling. I did a bit of rotation and you can’t fault the attitude. These boys showed true commitment.
“In the end, we did the job. The lads did great after just four days of training together. The camaraderie was good. You saw our set-plays out there. They were non-existent because we haven’t had a chance to practice them!
“But this is just the start. We’ve got Poland next in a friendly. Then I think we’ll play in the Middle East. By the time we get to AFCON in January, I want us to be a machine.
“We still have a long way to go. A hell of a lot of work to be done. But we will only get better.”

An Urgent Warning for Bafana: Mozambique's Mambas are highly dangerous

Danger: Elias Pelembe

Message: Urgent. Delivery data: Mbombela Stadium before 8.45pm tonight. Eyes only: Gordon Igesund. Header: BAFANA WARNING.

Message reads: Gordon, beware. Stop. Mozambique won’t be easy. Stop. Pulled off one of THE shocks in AFCON 2013 qualifying over weekend 2-0 against Morocco. Stop. And while you’re jetting in from Sao Paulo, they only have to drive a couple of hours along the N4 from Maputo to Nelspruit. Stop. Keep an eye on Elias Pelembe. Stop him. Ends.

Yup, I’m hoping that top secret alert will get through to Flash Gordon and his boys before tonight’s big kick-off on SABC1, where viewing records fell as Bafana Bafana put up a brave fight against five-times world champions Brazil on Friday night.

What a performance. Professor Jonathan Jansen, the increasingly puzzling peacemaker from the University of the OFS, put out a tweet complaining about South Africans “celebrating defeat” and I told him in no uncertain terms: “Then you know nothing about football.”

Friday night at the Morumbi Stadium on Brazil’s National Day was no ordinary 1-0 defeat. Only a late goal from R6bn man Hulk -  yes, Givanildo Vieira de Souza cost more than the entire Bafana squad when he moved from Porto to Zenit St Petersburg last month – robbed Bafana of the draw they so richly deserved.
The locals, thoroughly fed up by Brazilian boss Mano Menezes, gave South Africa a far louder ovation than their own “Selecao”,  with Itumeleng Khune starring in goal behind Siya Sangweni, who emerged after the match with the fabulous Neymar still in his pocket.

There was a period, for 15 minutes after half-time, when Bafana were clearly the better side. Before Igesund’s decision to remove the silky Lerato Chabangu instead of the sulking Siphiwe Tshabalala, South Africa were putting passes together and making Brazil look decidedly ordinary in front of a whistling 52,000 crowd.

Even when they lost a further TWO strikers – Dino Ndlovu (dislocated shoulder) and Benni McCarthy (hamstring) – Bafana remained unruffled, with Thulani Serero probing, Bernard Parker engaging and surprise captain Bongani Khumalo completing a dynamic defensive duo with Sangweni.
Defeat or not, this was not a bad night for South Africa football. Igesund pronounced himself “satisfied”, as did a glowing Khune.

Khumalo, while “thanking God” for the armband, raved: “We were working for each other. There was good character and spirit. We must continue with this, go forward, not look back.”

Then there was this extraordinary tribute to Igesund from the experienced McCarthy. Despite an injury after 10 minutes which will keep the former Porto, Blackburn and West Ham striker out for six weeks, South Africa’s only Champions League winner oozed: “Wow, Gordon is different class. He has that Jose Mourinho feel (irie) to him. He brings the best out of the players.

“He makes every player believe in themselves. He jokes with the players and he makes them laugh and smile. He makes us feel invincible.
“I think we did very well against Brazil. Every person has their own opinion but as a team we are proud of our coach and our game.”

Tributes don’t glow much more than that. But amid the general euphoria over the world’s 74th ranked side coming so close against Brazil, ranked an all-time low of 12th, Sunday night brought a swift reality check.

That came with the news that Morocco – 68th in the world – had been soundly beaten 2-0 by our neighbours – and tonight’s friendly opposition – Mozambique, currently ranked 109th.

Elias Pelembe – the Mamelodi Sundowns star who is one of South Africa’s best-paid players – scored the second and made the first for Almiro Lobo at the Machave Stadium in Maputo, quieting a restless home crowd who had booed Jerry Sitoe for an early miss in a goalless first half.

Before his meeting of minds with Igesund, the Mamba’s German coach Gert Engels admitted: "We were very patient and everybody knows that the second leg in Morocco will be hard work if we are to reach the AFCON finals. My players are in good shape for South Africa.”

Tonight, with the Mozambiquans travelling a mere 205kms along the N4 from Maputo to Mbombela, Igesund’s injury-stricken Bafana will still be recovering from their 7441km trek to Sao Paulo and back – a return trip of over 15000km.

Igesund insists he does not need reinforcements before tonight’s game. He will continue with Bernard Parker, his one fit striker, up front (unless you count Golden Arrows front man Thamsanqa Gabusa, who hasn't played a match all season) and keep faith in the Boys from Brazil.

He may be right. But can he possibly instil the same level of commitment against modest Mozambique as he did against mighty Brazil?

Igesund said yesterday: "We played very well against Brazil and the boys were all fired up and they need to be equally pumped up when we face Mozambique. We need to have the same passion, drive, commitment and attitude in all our games. We are facing another formidable side."

Exactly. That opening defeat against the Samba Boys was no disaster for Bafana fans accustomed to disappointment under Pitso Mosimane. But a mauling against Mozambique - and a rare home defeat - may just end Igesund’s short honeymoon. Let’s hope he really can render his jet-lagged squad “invincible” tonight.

This article first appeared in The New Age newspaper today as my Neal and Pray column. See

Monday, 10 September 2012

Music to the Iron Duke's ears: Benni McCarthy ready to work with new Orlando Pirates boss Roger de Sa

Big job: Roger de Sa, the new Orlando Pirates boss

Benni McCarthy’s response to the Roger de Sa appointment was exactly what chairman Irvin Khoza would have hoped for.
He replied to my twittered concerns over last season’s Telkom Knock-Out final rift in public saying: “Cool, Calm and Collective. I wanna continue winning things wit Pirates so have to play it cool.”
McCarthy, out for six weeks with a hamstring injury sustained in his 10-minute appearance for Bafana in their 1-0 loss in Brazil on Friday, also found time to reassure an anxious Ghost on Twitter.
I’ve sorted some of the twitterisms, but here’s what South Africa’s record goal-scorer had to say: “Hope we can win more trophies and conquer Africa with Roger de Sa. I'll make sure the coach gets the very best from everyone in the team.
“Wow, if you think the appointment of our new coach will end my career! I've got God on my side. We the players will work hard to make life pleasant for the fans and help the new coach settle in good.
 “The rift with Roger ended after the Telkom Knock-out final, which we won (smile). It’s gone and forgotten, now we must work as a team to see what we can win together.
“Coach Palacios brought the best out of the team in difficult times. Give credit where its due.
“I seriously have no clue what the reasons were (behind yesterday’s announcement). The coach was struggling with his back for a while though.”
And he told his 30,725 followers: “Thanks for the get well wishes I'll be back soon, fitter and stronger most definitely.”
But Benni alone cannot ease the fears raised by De Sa’s appointment, confirmed to me by Khotso "Nic" Ditshego this morning an hour before the "high noon" press conference. The Iron Duke has now employed four coaches in two seasons – but his Buccaneers have plundered six trophies in that time, including two PSL tiles.
With the ghost of Ruud Krol still hanging over the Pirates, Brazilian Julio Leal and Peruvian caretaker Augusto Palacios failed to thrive at a sometimes violent Orlando Stadium.
Now along comes De Sa, who famously accused McCarthy of being “paid by the kilogram” when Pirates beat Wits in last season’s Telkom finale. McCarthy said afterwards that De Sa and his assistant Eric Tinkler were “dead to him” but both parties appear to be willing to work on their relationship.
It’s another relationship – De Sa’s break-up with his former partner Nicole Henderson – which stirs further controversy.
Last July, as Wits tumbled down the PSL table, the Randburg Magistrates Court heard how De Sa “harassed and threatened” Henderson and her new boyfriend Deon van Rensburg with violence. In court documents, Henderson and Van Rensburg went into detail how the former Bafana Bafana goalkeeper sent them abusive SMSes.
A month before, De Sa had been slapped with a protection order which instructed him not to “assault, threaten, harass, intimidate, verbally or physically abuse” the mother of his two chidren.
But Henderson told the court: "Roger tracks me down. I am not sure if I am being followed. He is mentally abusing me with ugly words.
"If he knows we are together, it goes on through the night. He is threatening to beat up my boyfriend. He told my kids he has a baseball bat and gun in his car. He has threatened to give me a hiding too.
"I don't think he is mentally stable at the moment and I am scared of what he might do. He is completely acting out of character, almost psychotic."
Van Rensburg, a Free State-based businessman, also sought help from the North Gauteng High Court last May to control De Sa’s post-relationship depression.
Van Rensburg showed the court De Sa’s text messages which read: "Hey fat p***sy! Come visit and face me man to man. Coward!; Always know where u r. U don't come to me. I will to u. F****d my family. U gonna pay. Hope u coming to Jhb! So we meet. Still running?; Next time I see u! U know. Be ready and be a man. If it takes 10 yrs. Its on. G Night Babe. XXX"
Henderson’s representative told the court: "According to Henderson the First Respondent (De Sa) was involved in numerous relationships with other women while he was also involved in the relationship with her. His tendency for affairs led to tension. They had regular fallouts. She told me she had left him in May 2011 ..."
In turn, Da Sa insisted: "I do not have a firearm and am not in possession of any firearms. It is the applicant who has a firearm that is not licensed, being a small pistol.
"I always have a baseball bat in my car, which is usually under my seat, for protection.”
"I deny that I am not mentally stable. I find it strange that the applicant, as a hairdresser, has the qualification to make any verdict on my mental health.”
After two spells in charge of Wits lasting nearly 10 years, De Sa was fired by Wits on July 9 last year. He insisted: “No, I was not fired because of those reports. They have been one-sided and my side of the story has not been heard so I would not like to dwell much on them.”
Maputo-born Rogério Paulo Cesar De Sá, who guided Wits to the Nedbank Cup in 2010 and represented South Africa as a footballer and basketballer, is no shrinking violet.
Now 47, Roger’s dad Octávio Augusto César De Sá (1935–1990), played in goal for Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon between 1956 and 1960 before moving to Mozambique. Roger arrived in South Africa in 1974, aged 10.
De Sa played for – and captained - Moroka Swallows and Mamelodi Sundowns – and was in the 1996 African Nations Cup winning squad, though he won only one cap for Bafana Bafana.
De Sa started coaching Bidvest Wits towards the end of his playing career in 2001, aged 37 and was named PSL Coach of the Season in 2002–03. He rejoined The Students in June 2007, after two years in charge at Cape Town club Santos.
De Sa, who also acted as Bafana Bafana’s goalkeeping coach under Carlos Queiroz, said yesterday: “This has to be the right time as I had years ago contacted the chairman for this job to no avail. When I got the chairman's call I was obviously delighted as I believe I am up to the task at hand.”
The resignation of Augusto Palacios, who was only confirmed in the permanent coaching role at the start of the season after winning the PSL title as a caretaker last term, was not unexpected.
After four games without a goal and emphatic 3-0 defeats against SuperSport United and Moroka Swallows at a grumbling Orlando Stadium, chairman Khoza’s statement read: “Augusto Palacios has had to step aside as a result of a persistent back problem that resulted in hospitalisation last week.
“Augusto Palacios will revert to his position in the development structures of Orlando Pirates Football Club with due consideration to his recovery which is expected to take several months after undergoing major spinal surgery.
“Roger is a team player who has worked in various capacities for our senior and junior national teams including being roped in to the technical team of the Portuguese national team during the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
“I have no doubt that he will find the new challenge at Orlando Pirates a worthwhile enhancement to his career.”
De Sa will take charge for the first time against Platinum Stars on September 18 and you have to wish the man luck. Clearly Roger and his family have had a tough year, but – like Stuart Baxter at Kaizer Chiefs – he claims he is up to coaching one of the nation’s biggest sides despite his personal ups and downs.
Just how he will cope with the egos in the squad and the passion of the fans is hard to say. The pressures at Wit and Santos were nothing compared to the stress of leading the Buccaneers. He’ll need all the luck he can get.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Brazil and South Africa name their starters for tonight: Khumalo to lead Bafana, Neymar in, Hulk out

Brazilliant: Neymar isn't scared, it's just his hairstyle
Confirmed: Bafana Bafana starting line-up to face Brazil in Sao Paulo tonight (live on SABC1, 8.45pm): Khune; Gaxa, Khumalo (capt), Sangweni, Masenamela: Dikgacoi, Furman, Tshabalala; Serero, Chabangu, Ndlovu.

Brazil : Diego Alves, Dani Alves, David Luiz, Dede, Marcelo, Oscar, Ramires, Lucas Moura, Romulo: Neymar, Leandro.

So, as the South African joke goes, there is nothing Kaka about this Brazilian side who will turn out against Gordon Igesund's first Bafana line-up.

Bongani Khumalo, the former SuperSport United title-winning centre-half, will captain South Africa in the absence of Everton's "injured" Steven Pienaar with Siphiwe Tshabalala as vice-captain. Khumalo arrived late in Brazil from PAOK, the financially-strapped Greek club he joined after a disastrous year at Tottenham Hotspur.

Under FIFA international friendly rules, both sides can sit their entire squads on the bench for tonight's game, with six substitutes allowed each, allowing Igesund to call on his untried youngsters - or veteran goal-poacher Benni McCarthy.

Khumalo lines up next to my preferred choice as skipper, Orlando Pirates player of the season Siya Sangweni, with Sibuniso Gaxa and Punch Masenamela filling the full-back slots ahead of Peterborough's emerging 18-year-old Kgosi Nthle.

Though the side trained in a 4-4-1-1 formation, Igesund has plumped for just three in his midfield: English Championship pair Kagiso Dikgacoi of Crystal Palace and Oldham's Dean Furman, who will make his debut. Siphiwe Tshablala plays wide.

Cape Town-born Furman, an unused sub for Joel Santana against Australia in 2008, said: "I've always dreamt of this, it's a great honour. I lived in South Africa until I was five, my family are still there. It's a very proud moment. I hope I can do myself justice."

Thulani Serero, who moved from Cape Town to Amsterdam with Ajax and scored twice against Herenveen last Saturday, is named as a striker, though he may also fulfil a wide role if Igesund does as promised and attacks down both flanks.

That leaves in-form Moroka Swallows goal-getter Lerato Chabangu and Maccabi Haifa's top-scorer Dino Ndlovu up front. It's an attacking, innovative side, if offer no critique of Gordon's first selection. Hard to say how they'll gel together.

What we do know is that, in Brazil, it's Sete de Setembro, the biggest public holiday of the year. We also know only about half of the 67,000 tickets for the Estadio do Morumbi have been sold as boss Mano Menezes attempts to lift Brazil from an all-time low of 12th in the FIFA world rankings.

Still, with England - who play Moldova tonight in a World Cup qualifier - ranked third, perhaps we shouldn't worry too much about a ranking system which puts South Africa down in a gloomy 74th.

In his effort to prove himself capable of running the five-times World Cup winners at the Brazil World Cup in 2014, Menezes has picked a side around the fabulous Neymar da Silva Santos Junior.

Better known simply as Neymar, there is no question the 20-year-old South American Footballer of the Year will soon be right up there with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the galaxy of global dominators.

Still plying his trade locally with Pele's old club Santos, he scored a hat-trick against local club Sao Paulo in April and will be up front with Internacional striker Leandro attempting to dismantle an South African defence dominated by Orlando Pirates player of the year Siya Sangweni.

That means there's no starting place for the incredible Hulk, the record-breaking Porto striker who has just completed a R360m move to Zenit St Petersburg.

The 26-year-old (real name Givnildo Vieira de Souza) insists: "I won't be hiding just because I'll be playing in Russia, these days all league are very visible. I'm sure Mano will be watching the Russian League, just as he does the English, Spanish and Italian.

"I just have to keep doing my job and taking my international chances."

Menezes's team boasts a total of just 170 caps - Barcelona's experienced Dani Alves passed a fitness test on his dodgy thigh to take his place a right back with Real Madrid's Marcelo at left-back. In the centre of defence, Chelsea's David Luis will be joined by Vasco Da Gama's Dede.

Sao Paulo's sought-after Lucas Moura, the local hero, dominates the midfield selecao with Chelsea pair Ramires and Oscar along with Spartak Moscow winger Romulo. Valenicia's Diego Alves takes his place in goal.

Look, it's a good side. But it's youngish and still developing. This is not the best bunch of Brazilians we have ever seen. And with Igesund's camp cheerful in the face of adversity, I'm hoping Bafana Bafana can begin the post-Pitso era with a vibrant draw or even a dramatic last-gasp Benni McCarthy winner.

The truth is, a 3-1 Brazil win feels about right. But as long as every South African player on show recognises the moment, grabs their opportunity on one of the greatest footballing stages, even defeat wouldn't be a disaster.

Before Mocambique receive a sound whipping in Mbombela next week.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Brazil v South Africa Preview: Gordon Igesund plays his captain's armband close to his chest

The champions' champion: Buccaneer Siya Sangweni

GORDON IGESUND’S Brazilian headache is rapidly turning in to a serious migraine. If, and that’s a sizeable if, everything goes to plan, I expect the Bafana Bafana coach’s first starting team to look like this in a 4-4-2 formation: Sandilands; Gaxa, Mathoho, Sangweni (captain), Nthle; Mokotjo, Dikgacoi, Furman, Tshabalala; Serero, Ndlovu.

Orlando Pirates veteran Siya Sangweni is not confirmed as skipper, but his known ability as a motivator with the double-champions may put last year’s Buccaneer of the season ahead of the Amakhosi’s Sipho Tshabalala in the race to succeed injured captain Steven Pienaar.

With Igesund playing his armband close to his chest, Shabba himself admits: “It does not matter who captains the side to me. We are here to rebuild Bafana under a new coach, that’s our priority.”

Worried South Africans should consider this: Brazil have just slipped to an all-time low in the FIFA rankings, despite their plethora of international stars.

Before tomorrow's friendly showdown at the Estadio do Morumbi in Sao Paulo (live on SABC1 8.45pm), Igesund was unable to have a good look at Dino Ndlovu or Benni McCarthy during training at Palmeiras.
With his favourite veteran Siyabonga Nomvethe of Moroka Swallows, Malmo’s Tokelo Rantie and up-and-coming Sundowns striker Edward Manqele already withdrawn, Igesund’s attacking options were already restricted before Ndlovu turned up from Israel on Wednesday with concussion.

The 22-year-old former Mamelodi Sundowns and Bloemfontein Celtic goal sensation took a knock on the head while scoring his third goal in three games for Maccabi Haifa on Saturday.

While Ndlovu did involve himself briefly in the training session, the Bafana Bafana medical staff will be keeping a close eye on his situation – and the veteran McCarthy’s “tight calf” which kept him sidelined at the Palmeiras training facility.

Igesund’s selection process is further complicated by the late arrivals of centre-back Bongani Khumalo from Greece and full-back Siboniso Gaxa, the late call-up from Kaizer Chiefs.

With just 32,000 tickets sold for the 67,000 Sao Paulo venue on Brazil’s biggest national holiday today, Igesund knows his Brazilian counterpart is under pressure too – anything less than a thumping win over South Africa will put Mano Menezez on the brink.

Five-time World Cup winners Brazil are currently ranked a gloomy 12th in the latest FIFA rankings with South Africa 74th, ten places short of their next World Cup qualifying rivals Central African Republic, who are 64th.

But rankings mean little to Igesund as he starts the monumental task of guiding Bafana to the AFCON 2013 semi-finals on home soil before engineering World Cup qualification for Brazil 2014 with his side on two points from two games so far.

If Ndlovu is fit, Igesund will play him alone up front ahead of Thulani Serero, who scored twice for Ajax Amsterdam in their 2-2 draw against Herenveen on Saturday before a 53rd-minute red card.
Swallows’ reformed alcoholic Lerato Chabangu, in top form on the domestic scene, will be on the bench with late replacement McCarthy, if fit.

With Everton’s Steven Pienaar “injured” after Saturday’s defeat against West Brom, Champions club Oldham Athletic’s 24-year-old Dean Furman – not to be confused with Norwich City’s English-qualified South African Andrew Surman – is set to make his debut after appearing as a non-playing sub for Joel Santana against Australia in 2008.

Fellow Championship battler Kagiso Dikgacoi of Crystal Palace will slot in next to Furman with Feyenoord’s Kamohelo Mokotjo behind them in a protective midfield triangle, leaving Siphiwe Tshabalala wide left. Serero will be expected to find space out on the right wing while supporting Ndlovu up front.
SuperSport United’s George Maluleka will be on the bench to add creative impetus if needed.

If Khumalo is ready his late arrival from Thessalonika, he will line up next to Sangweni in central defence, though Tower Mathoho, Kaizer Chiefs off-season signing from Bloemfontein Celtic, will be eager to make up for the absence of stricken team-mate Morgan Gould, who would have led Bafana had he not needed a season-threatening Achilles tendon operation.

The Europe-tested Gaxa should take his place at right back though Punch Masenamela may find himself lined up behind Kgosi Nthle of Peterborough at left-back, the 18-year-old has apparently impressed in training.

In goal, with SuperSport United’s young shot-stopped Rowan Williams injured, Igesund knows all three “glamour club” keepers have suffered significant reverses in recent weeks, but he could go with Sundowns’ Wayne Sandilands ahead of Pitso Mosimane’s beloved Chief Itumelenge Khune and the returning Buccaneer Moeneeb Josephs.

Neymar, Dani Alvez and David Luiz will be lining up at the other end – along with Lucas Moura, Ramires and Paulinho who trained together in an 8-a-side training clash yesterday.

The last time these two teams met Brazil emerged victorious with a late Dani Alves strike knocking the Bafana out in the semifinal of the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Igesund knows any side he picks will come under severe pressure in all areas. But he insists: “We’ve taken a few blows over the last week. But you know me Neal, I don’t go out not to lose games. We will give it a go. We won’t go out there feeling inferior.”

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Exclusive: Gordon Igesund on Brazil, Neymar, Rantie and McCarthy

Saviour of the universe? Bafana boss Gordon Igesund

I’ve just spoken to Gordon Igesund, the man with the toughest job in football. Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool and Johan Neeskens of Mamelodi Sundowns may dispute that right now. They’d be wrong.

Back in 1980, Freddy Mercury and his popular music quartet Queen sang: “Flash Gordon. Aha. Saviour of the Universe.” For South Africa’s own Gordon, saving the planet would appear to be a doddle compared to taking on five-times global conquerors Brazil on Friday night.

Just last Friday, after Igesund named his first squad to play Brazil and Mocambique, I was thinking seriously of fronting a television show about the 56-year-old’s heroic deeds with Queen’s Flash Gordon as the signature tune.

But a weekend, as every international coach knows, can be a long time in football. On Saturday, Steven Pienaar – Igesund’s iconic captain from Westbury – was declared crocked by a “thigh muscle strain” despite playing the full 90 minutes in Everton’s disappointing defeat at West Bromwich Albion.

Rather than turning to Orlando Pirates sought-after dynamo Andile Jali or Sundowns play-maker Teko Modisane, Igesund chose to call up the impressive SuperSport United midfielder George Maluleka. Controversial but understandable given the form of the Buccaneers and Brazilians of late.

Saturday also saw the withdrawal of Belgian-based Anele Ngcongca, who injured knee ligaments while playing for Genk. The club say he will be out for “at least two months”. That may open the way for 18-year-old Peterborough defender Kgosi Nthle to make an unexpected debut in Sao Paolo. Igesund’s only ever seen him play on video but as been assured by Posh boss Darren Ferguson – one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s twin sons: “He will never let you down.”

But it’s up front where Gordon’s universe is beset by falling stars. First, he told us in his squad-naming announcement last Thursday how he had picked former Orlando Pirates loan ranger Tokelo Rantie in his original squad of 23.

But then he explained how, on both the player and his new club Malmo’s advice, he had opted to scratch Rantie’s name off the list as he was “only 60 per cent fit”. Then what happens? Rantie scores for Malmo – his fifth goal in four games - in a 1-1 draw with Mjallby and played for 78 minutes before being subbed.
And back in South Africa, Igesund’s “old reliable” Siyabonga Nomvethe – PSL top scorer for Gordon’s Birds last season - suffered scan-confirmed “torn ligaments in his big toe” during a remarkable 3-0 win for Moroka Swallows at Orlando Pirates in the oldest Soweto derby.

Igesund immediately called up Sundowns striker Jabu “Edward” Manqele, the Brazilians’ R7m transfer window signing from Free State Stars. But he too was withdrawn, after pulling a hamstring in Sundowns shock defeat 2-1 against Martizburg United amid the riot police at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville.
Then, and only then, Gordon turned to big, bad Benni McCarthy, last season’s PSL title-winning hero for Orlando Pirates who was controversially sent off amid further crowd trouble in the MTN8 semi-final defeat at the Orlando Stadium a week ago.

When Gordon rang yesterday morning, at the airport on the way to his date with destiny in Sao Paolo on Friday (Live from Estadio Morumbi on SABC1, 8.45pm), the weight of saving the universe with a patched up platoon hung heavy on his shoulders.

“Look Neal, you can’t say I’m upset about Rantie playing for Malmo. I spoke to the club and the player. They both said he was not fit. Rantie said he was sore because he hadn’t been through proper pre-season training.

“He said he was 60 percent fit and he didn’t want to play for Bafana when he was less than 100 percent. Rantie said he might only get one or two chances for the national team and he wanted to impress right from his first game with me.

“Then Malmo called and thanked me for leaving him out. They said it was the right decision. What can I do? I have to take their word.

“Then came the news that Stevie Pienaar and Siya Nomvethe were out. You can imagine. What a blow. My Premier League captain and Nomvethe, such a good, experienced Zulu lad.

“But look, you know Benni McCarthy. He can still do the job. And I’ve still got Bernard Parker, who scored four for Kaizer Chiefs the other day and Dino Ndlovu who scored his third goal of the season in Israel over the weekend.”

Igesund can also point to the two goals scored by Thulani Serero for Ajax Amsterdam yesterday – though he was sent off 53 minutes in to the 2-2 draw against Herenveen for a “crude challenge” on Filip Duricic.
Gordon continued: “You have to turn these negatives in to positives. I still have good players, we are still on track. I can look at some of the young players like Serero and Nthle, check them out.

“And you’ve seen this squad. It’s well-balanced, the mood is good, we are still positive. Now we just have to play Brazil with Neymar and all their stars on their biggest public holiday of the year.

“I know how hard it will be, but this is a new era for Bafana. But we aren’t going to worry about Neymar. We won’t go out there feeling inferior to Brazil, even though we know good they are and the crowd will be noisy.

“You know me, I won’t go out not to lose. I’ll play positive football with wide players. And we’ll make our country proud.”