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Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 10:31 UK

Why Santana had to go

By Piers Edwards
BBC Sport, Johannesburg

On the face of it, Joel Santana's long-expected ousting as South Africa coach on Monday was a cut-and-dried affair.

Brazilian coach Joel Santana
Joel Santana lost eight of his last nine games in charge of South Africa

The 2010 World Cup hosts have lost eight of their last nine games, culminating in last week's embarrassing defeat to lowly Iceland.

Their current Fifa ranking of 85th is their lowest since 1994, which was just two years after South Africa's re-entry into global football.

And with no World Cup hosts having ever failed to get past the group stages, there were more worrying statistics as well.

In the last nine games, just one player has actually scored for Bafana Bafana, Mamelodi Sundowns striker Katlego Mphela having netted four times.

And in Santana's 27 matches, 14 of which ended in defeat, the Brazilian's only competitive wins came against Equatorial Guinea and New Zealand.

Up to a point though, one can feel some sympathy for the unloved Santana - waved off with a 'Bye Bye Big Nose' caption by one local media outlet.

Three of the much-trumpeted eight losses came against Spain (twice) and Brazil in June's Confederations Cup, where the hosts' displays were seen as a great success.

Two more of the defeats came against Germany and Serbia, sides that not only topped their European World Cup qualifying groups with ease but also boast far superior players.

For whoever follows Santana - with just eight months left to the World Cup - will face similar problems to the vilified 60-year-old.

South African football is short of top-class talent, with most of the squad based at home and few plying their trade in Europe's top leagues.

Just four of Santana's final 23-man squad play in England's Premier League, while none figured in either Spain's La Liga or the Italian Serie A.

But that may well change with the arrival of the new coach - with former Bafana Bafana boss Carlos Alberto Parreira currently leading the running.

For two of Santana's most controversial decisions were to axe Blackburn Rovers' Benni McCarthy and Spain-based Nasief Morris from the Confederations Cup for disciplinary reasons.

Fomer South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira
Carlos Alberto Parreira is being tipped for a return as South Africa coach

Many fans agreed with dropping McCarthy after the forward's repeated failures to honour international call-ups, but they were largely baffled by Morris' absence.

Ever-present until the final stages of last season's La Liga campaign with Recreativo Huelva, here was a defender who shone in Spain despite his side's relegation.

Yet the fact that Morris is the sole South African in either La Liga or Serie A speaks volumes about the country's poor youth development plans in the past.

Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar is the only player of genuine class and when he's absent, as he was for recent friendlies through injury, the side's threat drops considerably.

Teko Modise, a local megastar for Orlando Pirates, has been widely touted as a similar creative force but the winger's international displays have been well under par.

Failing to get the best out of Modise certainly counted against Santana, as did his decision to regularly field the misfiring star when others were so patiently waiting in the wings.

For until realising his job was in danger, the coach had tinkered little, showing next-to-no tactical flexibility as he stuck to a defensive approach while making few substitutions.

And it's highly questionable whether his beloved 4-4-2 best suited the players at his disposal.

Just once at the very least, it would have been interesting to see a 3-4-1-2 formation, deploying Pienaar in the hole, to enable the build-up to go through the team's best player.

Far too often though, South Africa's steady, if ponderous, approach play broke down in the box, with Bafana Bafana truly laying claims to being the jigsaw of world football.

Along with a substandard level of crossing, these are questions for the new coach - who can quickly win over the sceptical media if he can just master one thing.

For despite spending 18 months in the job, picking up over US$175,000 per month in the process, Santana's command of English was still feeble at the end - infuriating local fans.

In contrast, Parreira speaks English fluently and despite resigning as South Africa coach last year to care for his sick wife, Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning coach is being heavily linked with a return now she is better.

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see also
SA and Santana part company
19 Oct 09 |  African
Bafana lose as Satana stays put
14 Oct 09 |  African
Santana's SA future in doubt
11 Oct 09 |  African
Santana welcomes the assessors
08 Oct 09 |  African
Dikgacoi says keep SA coach
07 Oct 09 |  African
South Africa coach under fire
01 Oct 09 |  African

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