|The champions' champion: Buccaneer Siya Sangweni|
GORDON IGESUND’S Brazilian headache is rapidly turning in to a serious migraine. If, and that’s a sizeable if, everything goes to plan, I expect the Bafana Bafana coach’s first starting team to look like this in a 4-4-2 formation: Sandilands; Gaxa, Mathoho, Sangweni (captain), Nthle; Mokotjo, Dikgacoi, Furman, Tshabalala; Serero, Ndlovu.
Orlando Pirates veteran Siya Sangweni is not confirmed as skipper, but his known ability as a motivator with the double-champions may put last year’s Buccaneer of the season ahead of the Amakhosi’s Sipho Tshabalala in the race to succeed injured captain Steven Pienaar.
With Igesund playing his armband close to his chest, Shabba himself admits: “It does not matter who captains the side to me. We are here to rebuild Bafana under a new coach, that’s our priority.”
Worried South Africans should consider this: Brazil have just slipped to an all-time low in the FIFA rankings, despite their plethora of international stars.
Before tomorrow's friendly showdown at the Estadio do Morumbi in Sao Paulo (live on SABC1 8.45pm), Igesund was unable to have a good look at Dino Ndlovu or Benni McCarthy during training at Palmeiras.
With his favourite veteran Siyabonga Nomvethe of Moroka Swallows, Malmo’s Tokelo Rantie and up-and-coming Sundowns striker Edward Manqele already withdrawn, Igesund’s attacking options were already restricted before Ndlovu turned up from Israel on Wednesday with concussion.
The 22-year-old former Mamelodi Sundowns and Bloemfontein Celtic goal sensation took a knock on the head while scoring his third goal in three games for Maccabi Haifa on Saturday.
While Ndlovu did involve himself briefly in the training session, the Bafana Bafana medical staff will be keeping a close eye on his situation – and the veteran McCarthy’s “tight calf” which kept him sidelined at the Palmeiras training facility.
Igesund’s selection process is further complicated by the late arrivals of centre-back Bongani Khumalo from Greece and full-back Siboniso Gaxa, the late call-up from Kaizer Chiefs.
With just 32,000 tickets sold for the 67,000 Sao Paulo venue on Brazil’s biggest national holiday today, Igesund knows his Brazilian counterpart is under pressure too – anything less than a thumping win over South Africa will put Mano Menezez on the brink.
Five-time World Cup winners Brazil are currently ranked a gloomy 12th in the latest FIFA rankings with South Africa 74th, ten places short of their next World Cup qualifying rivals Central African Republic, who are 64th.
But rankings mean little to Igesund as he starts the monumental task of guiding Bafana to the AFCON 2013 semi-finals on home soil before engineering World Cup qualification for Brazil 2014 with his side on two points from two games so far.
If Ndlovu is fit, Igesund will play him alone up front ahead of Thulani Serero, who scored twice for Ajax Amsterdam in their 2-2 draw against Herenveen on Saturday before a 53rd-minute red card.
Swallows’ reformed alcoholic Lerato Chabangu, in top form on the domestic scene, will be on the bench with late replacement McCarthy, if fit.
With Everton’s Steven Pienaar “injured” after Saturday’s defeat against West Brom, Champions club Oldham Athletic’s 24-year-old Dean Furman – not to be confused with Norwich City’s English-qualified South African Andrew Surman – is set to make his debut after appearing as a non-playing sub for Joel Santana against Australia in 2008.
Fellow Championship battler Kagiso Dikgacoi of Crystal Palace will slot in next to Furman with Feyenoord’s Kamohelo Mokotjo behind them in a protective midfield triangle, leaving Siphiwe Tshabalala wide left. Serero will be expected to find space out on the right wing while supporting Ndlovu up front.
SuperSport United’s George Maluleka will be on the bench to add creative impetus if needed.
If Khumalo is ready his late arrival from Thessalonika, he will line up next to Sangweni in central defence, though Tower Mathoho, Kaizer Chiefs off-season signing from Bloemfontein Celtic, will be eager to make up for the absence of stricken team-mate Morgan Gould, who would have led Bafana had he not needed a season-threatening Achilles tendon operation.
The Europe-tested Gaxa should take his place at right back though Punch Masenamela may find himself lined up behind Kgosi Nthle of Peterborough at left-back, the 18-year-old has apparently impressed in training.
In goal, with SuperSport United’s young shot-stopped Rowan Williams injured, Igesund knows all three “glamour club” keepers have suffered significant reverses in recent weeks, but he could go with Sundowns’ Wayne Sandilands ahead of Pitso Mosimane’s beloved Chief Itumelenge Khune and the returning Buccaneer Moeneeb Josephs.
Neymar, Dani Alvez and David Luiz will be lining up at the other end – along with Lucas Moura, Ramires and Paulinho who trained together in an 8-a-side training clash yesterday.
The last time these two teams met Brazil emerged victorious with a late Dani Alves strike knocking the Bafana out in the semifinal of the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.
Igesund knows any side he picks will come under severe pressure in all areas. But he insists: “We’ve taken a few blows over the last week. But you know me Neal, I don’t go out not to lose games. We will give it a go. We won’t go out there feeling inferior.”