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
”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
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