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Page last updated at 11:11 GMT, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 12:11 UK

Pienaar pleased by Santana return

By Piers Edwards
BBC Sport, Johannesburg

Steven Pienaar
Pienaar is pleased to have Santana back in charge

South African midfielder Steven Pienaar has welcomed the return of coach Joel Santana by saying the Brazilian is like a 'father' to the squad.

Santana had looked unlikely to lead Bafana Bafana in Wednesday's home friendly against Serbia due to illness.

Santana contracted pneumonia at home in Brazil a fortnight ago.

Yet the 60-year-old landed in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning and immediately travelled to Pretoria to take charge of the squad.

"It's like a father coming back to his family," Pienaar told BBC Sport.

"For us, he is like a father figure.

The game against Serbia is the first minute of the World Cup for us

Steven Pienaar

"He always puts smiles on the players' faces and you can laugh and have a joke with him, which is important for us to feel relaxed."

The Brazilian has endured a challenging ride since his appointment in April 2008, but won over many doubters with his side's encouraging Confederations Cup displays.

The 2010 World Cup hosts lost a narrow semi-final 1-0 to Brazil following an 88th-minute strike, and then held Spain to a draw in normal time in the 3rd-place play-off (before an extra-time loss).

Yet for Pienaar and the rest, the Confederations Cup is past history as all eyes turn to next June's historic finals - Africa's first World Cup.

"The game against Serbia is the first minute of the World Cup for us," the Everton star explained.

"There are only a few months left now and it's important we put on another good show."

With Serbia leading France in their European World Cup qualifying group, there's every incentive for players to turn in fine displays against the world's 14th-ranked team.

"This is another opportunity to show the coach that we should be in the World Cup squad," said striker Katlego Mphela, who scored twice in the Confederations Cup.

"There is a lot of pressure on the players because we have to repeat the form we showed in the Confederations Cup to convince people that it wasn't a fluke."

It's a theme taken up by captain Aaron Mokoena, especially since South Africa have no competitive matches until the World Cup following their failure to qualify for the 2010 Nations Cup.

"We did well in the Confederations Cup, so now it's all about raising that bar," the Portsmouth man told BBC Sport.

"It's about playing teams who might make it to the World Cup - and rubbing shoulders with them."

After Wednesday's match in Pretoria, South Africa take to the road for a succession of friendlies.

Bafana Bafana's next preparations involve games in Germany (5 September), Ireland (8 September), Norway (10 October) and Iceland (14 October).

They return home in November, taking on guaranteed World Cup finalists Japan in Durban before a friendly against Jamaica in Bloemfontein.

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see also
Brazil v South Africa as it happened
25 Jun 09 |  Football
Baines hails Pienaar partnership
07 May 09 |  Everton
Thieves target Everton midfielder
10 May 09 |  Merseyside
Pienaar targeting Bafana glory
08 Feb 09 |  African
Pienaar: Everton feels like home
12 Dec 07 |  African
Pienaar signs for Dortmund
18 Jan 06 |  African

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