No place for Benni
Joel Santana has sensationally opted to omit the country's prodigal genius, Benni McCarthy from his 30-man preliminary squad for the FIFA Confederations Cup in a move that has sent shockwaves throughout South Africa.
Santana's decision to sideline South Africa's record goalscorer will rank among one of the bravest moves in his career, seeing as the entire nation were expecting to see the Blackburn Rovers striker in action during the tournament which begins on 14 June.
Although McCarthy has had periods of self-imposed exile from the national team, this marks the first occasion that he has not been selected for a squad after making himself available.
Indeed, speaking before his exclusion from the squad in a recent interview with FIFA.com, the 32-year-old spoke of his excitement at the prospect of representing his country at the ‘Festival of Champions'. "I'm hoping that South Africa as a country and as a national team will impress at this tournament," said McCarthy. "We couldn't have asked for a better group. Even though Spain are the European champions and the No1 FIFA-ranked team in the world, it would be a privilege to play against them. I'm hoping to score as many goals as possible and establish myself."
Although the striker has been one of his country's best players since making his debut in 1997, appearing at the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups™, it has been reported that Santana lost patience with the player following his withdrawal from the Bafana Bafana squad to face Norway in the Nelson Mandela Challenge in Rustenburg and the friendly against Portugal four days later.
The former Porto star cited a hamstring injury for missing the matches on 28 and 31 March, but played the full 90 minutes and scored a crucial goal in Blackburn's 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on 4 April, a result which has gone a long way in helping to secure his club side's Premier League status.
Announcing the squad today, Santana refused to field questions on McCarthy's omission, emphasising that he wants to channel his energy on the selected players.
In-form midfield maestro, Steven Pienaar, who many suspected might miss out, was among the players selected in Santana's squad. The Everton man now looks set to form a mouthwatering partnership with Teko Modise in the centre of the park. Forgotten striker, Thembinkosi Fanteni, meanwhile, has been given another chance to resurrect his international career.
Another forgotten man who has found himself back in favour is Mamelodi Sundowns keeper, Brian Baloyi who has profited from an injury to Calvin Marlin. Baloyi's last call-up was back in September last year for a friendly match against Ghana. However, before that game, the veteran stopper had not made an appearance in the national team jersey for more than three years.
Goalkeepers: Brian Baloyi (Mamelodi Sundowns), Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs), Moeneeb Josephs (Orlando Pirates), Rowen Fernandez (Armenia Bielefeld, Germany).
Defenders: Matthew Booth (Mamelodi Sundowns), Siboniso Gaxa (Mamelodi Sundowns), Morgan Gould (SuperSport United), Tsepo Masilela (Maccabi Haifa, Israel), Aaron Mokoena (Blackburn Rovers, England), Nasief Morris (Recreativo, Spain), Bryce Moon (Panithinikos, Greece), Lucas Twala (Orlando Pirates), Bongani Khumalo (SuperSport United).
Midfielders: Lance Davids (Djurgardens, Sweden), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Golden Arrows), Teko Modise (Orlando Pirates), Masilo Modubi (Westerlo, Belgium), Siyabonga Nkosi (Maccabi Netanya, Israel), Steven Pienaar (Everton, England), Macbeth Sibaya (Rubin Kazan, Russia), Siphiwe Tshabalala (Kaizer Chiefs), Benson Mhlongo (Orlando Pirates), Surprise Moriri (Mamelodi Sundowns), Elrio van Heerden (Club Brugge, Belgium), Innocent Mdledle (Orlando Pirates).
Strikers: Bernard Parker (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia), Katlego Mphela (Mamelodi Sundowns), Thembinkosi Fanten (Maccabi Haifa, Israel), Mabhuti Khenyeza (Ajax Cape Town), Katlego Mashego (Orlando Pirates).