Brazilian Joel Santana arrived in South Africa Sunday to begin a 27-month contract as coach of the 2010 FIFA World Cup ™ hosts. He succeeds compatriot Carlos Alberto Parreira, the 1994 FIFA World Cup-winning coach who quit Bafana Bafana (The Boys) last month to be with his ill wife in Rio de Janeiro.
Dressed in a grey suit, the tall 59-year-old Santana walked from the airport building to a waiting car, left for a hotel without talking to the media and later watched a first division league fixture. The Brazilian is scheduled to face a local media largely critical of his appointment for the first time Monday and will name a squad Wednesday to face Nigeria on June 1 in a 2010 FIFA World Cup-CAF African Cup of Nations qualifier.
Santana resigned from leading Rio club Flamengo to take his first national team post and hopes to maintain the slow, steady progress of Parreira in trying to turn African football middleweights into serious competitors. But that is a tall order as Bafana Bafana fared poorly at the 2008 African Cup of Nations under Parreira, losing to Tunisia and drawing against Angola and Senegal in Ghana to make a timid first round exit.
South Africa outclassed Paraguay 3-0 near Pretoria during March in a friendly which triggered widespread optimism, but the game against bogey team Nigeria in Abuja should prove a more reliable barometer of progress.
Santana inherits a team that has discovered a promising goalkeeper in 20-year-old Itumeleng Khune, but lacks authority at the back, guile in the middle and punch up front.
Parreira left leading scorer Benni McCarthy from Blackburn Rovers out of the Cup of Nations without explanation and one of the first tasks facing Santana will be what to do with the talented goal poacher.