JOHANNESBURG // Benni McCarthy, South Africa's all-time leading goalscorer, was yesterday axed from the World Cup host's final 23-man squad. McCarthy, the West Ham striker, was one of six players cut by Carlos Alberto Parreira, the coach. The 32-year-old McCarthy has struggled with his fitness and been criticised in his homeland for being overweight.
He has scored 32 goals in 78 games since his Bafana Bafana debut in 1997. McCarthy claimed the first goal for South Africa at a World Cup when he netted against Denmark at France '98. He controversially retired from international football, at the age of 24, after the 2002 World Cup, before returning two years later. His exclusion this time around will likely lead to him retiring from international football for good.
Parreira said he would not talk about specific players, but said all six players who did not make the squad - which included Andile Jali, the midfielder who had already been ruled out with a mild heart condition - could be proud of their contributions. "It was a sad thing to have to split apart our family," said Parreira who will be guiding his fifth different side at the tournament after Kuwant (1982), the UAE (1990), Brazil (1994, 2006) and Saudi Arabia (1998).
"But I told them put your heads up, life goes on. All of you deserve to be here. Unfortunately we have to obey Fifa rules and we can only name 23." Pitso Mosimane, the assistant coach, read the squad to a packed news conference that was carried live on South Africa's two official World Cup broadcasters and a number of radio stations. Steven Pienaar, the Everton midfielder and South Africa's key man, was included in the squad, as was Siyabonga Nomvete, the veteran striker.
Fan-favourite Nomvete completed an unlikely comeback after being dropped by Joel Santana, the former coach, in 2008. He was recalled by Parreira earlier this year. Aaron Mokoena, the captain, Fulham's Kagisho Dikgacoi, Macbeth Sibaya, the Rubin Kazan midfielder, and Bernard Parker, a striker with FC Twente, the Dutch champions, all made the squad. But Rowen Fernandez, the German-based goalkeeper, defenders Bryce Moon and Innocent Mdledle and Franklin Cale, the midfielder, were left out, along with McCarthy and Jandile.
South Africa claimed a morale-boosting 5-0 win over Guatemala on Monday to take their unbeaten record under Parreira to 11 games. They will play one more friendly, against fellow World Cup qualifiers Denmark on Saturday before the tournament opener against Mexico on June 11. Former winners France and Uruguay are also in South Africa's group, who are under pressure to avoid being the first hosts to miss out on the second round of the tournament. "The mission of our boys is to make this country proud," said Parreira. "And the goal, is to go as far as we can in the World Cup. That's it.
"Once the ball moves, anything can happen. Everyone knows our group is a tough one. But we are ready." * Reuters