South Africans prepare for Chile test
South Africa will be aiming to extend a record run of victories to six on Wednesday when they tackle Chile in a friendly at Peter Mokaba Stadium in the northern city of Polokwane.
The 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup hosts have defeated Malawi, Ghana, Cameroon and Zambia in friendlies and Equatorial Guinea in an African Nations Cup qualifier since last September. But most of the wins were achieved against understrength opposition so the jury remains out on whether the national team are ready for the big challenges awaiting Brazilian coach Joel Santana and his stars.
South Africa have struggled against South American sides with a 3-0 home win over Paraguay last year their sole success in 10 outings and Chile have brought a strong squad for the first game between the countries. Argentina-born coach Marcelo Bielsa is taking no chances ahead of the floodlit fixture, barring the public and media from both pre-match training sessions in Johannesburg.
His 20-man squad includes home-based Chileans and others performing in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the United Arab Emirates. Among the strikers is Fabian Orellana, scorer of the goal that defeated Argentina in their last 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier and left Chile fourth with eight matches remaining. If the Chileans maintain or improve that position in the standings they will reach the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1998, where they made a second-round exit.
Santana named a virtual full-strength squad only to be deprived by injury of Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar, whose place goes to consistent South African Premiership scorer Sthembiso Ngcobo. Pienaar is a rarity - a South African footballer performing regularly at the highest level in Europe - with Recreativo Huelva defender Nasief Morris and Blackburn striker Benni McCarthy the others.
Injury rules out young first-choice goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune from Kaizer Chiefs, leaving Santana to choose between Calvin Marlin of Mamelodi Sundowns and the more erratic Moeneeb Josephs of Orlando Pirates. South Africa have lined up further friendlies against Norway, Portugal, Poland and an unnamed country before meeting Asian champions Iraq on 14 June in the opening FIFA Confederations Cup fixture.