No hope of Pienaar reconsidering retirement

Gordon Igesund’s coaching abilities will be tested at next

month’s African Cup of Nations when he has to guide host South

Africa to at least the semifinals without its best player and with

a squad that barely knows each other.

A successful domestic league coach, Igesund took charge of South

Africa’s national team in July after the 2010 World Cup hosts

failed to qualify for successive African Cups and Pitso Mosimane

was let go.

Now without former captain and Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar

– who won’t go back on his decision to retire from internationals –

Igesund has to quickly reorganize a group of players who will only

start African Cup preparations three weeks before kickoff.

South Africa opens the tournament on Jan. 19 against tournament

newcomer Cape Verde, which eliminated four-time champion Cameroon

in qualifying. The players go into a prolonged training camp for

the first time under Igesund on Dec. 27.

”We have never practiced free kicks. We never practiced

set-pieces,” Igesund said Tuesday as he outlined a desperately

rushed preparation schedule for the home team. ”The players don’t

know each other. They don’t know each other’s weaknesses and

strengths. We haven’t done any of that.”

Igesund’s job may also depend on the team’s performance after

the South African Football Association gave him a mandate to reach

the last four at the continental championship and qualify for the

2014 World Cup.

Igesund was hired after South Africa’s inconsistent and

eventually embarrassing spell under Mosimane, which was

characterized by the bewildering player celebrations following a

1-1 home draw with Sierra Leone last year.

The team and Mosimane thought the result qualified South Africa

for the 2012 African Cup when they needed to win the game.

Igesund has had five friendlies in charge, which included a

battling 1-0 loss in Brazil, but has had no time on the training

field to blend overseas-based players with his new squad

members.

”The players play a match and then they’re gone back to their

country the next day,” he said. ”I don’t think we need to kid

ourselves. We all know that circumstances put us in this situation

and we never ever said it was going to be an easy task. It’s not

long enough … it’s not easy but hopefully we can do it.”

Pienaar is also now a lost cause for South Africa’s home

tournament after the coach indicated he would try and convince the

playmaker to reconsider his surprise international retirement,

which he announced in October.

”Steven is totally retired from international football. He has

to get on with his life at his club and that’s it,” Igesund

said.

Without Pienaar, and with injury doubts over leading striker

Katlego Mphela and Ajax midfielder Thulani Serero, South Africa

will play friendlies against Malawi on Dec. 22, and Norway and

Algeria in early January in its rush to get ready for its biggest

test since staging the World Cup two years ago.

South Africa needs to prove its expensive hosting of the World

Cup has also helped its national team progress.

”It won’t take us too long to mold this team,” said Igesund,

who is hoping use South Africa’s 1996 African Cup-winning coach

Clive Barker and captain Neil Tovey to help prepare his team. ”We

know that time has been very short but we have to make this thing

happen.”