Benni back for Bucs
Benni McCarthy (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Benni McCarthy is back in action for the first time since he limped off the field after a brief appearance for Bafana Bafana in the 1-0 defeat against Brazil in Sao Paulo almost two months ago.
McCarthy appeared for Orlando Pirates in a practice match against Moroka Swallows at the Rand Stadium on Friday and afterwards declared that his hamstring injury had healed completely.
"I'm ready for action - and it could not have come at a better time," declared the veteran striker who remains Bafana's all-time top scorer in spite of making only one short appearance for the national team in the past three years.
McCarthy was referring to The Buccaneers' sell-out, top-of-the-log encounter against fierce rivals Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium next Saturday, with all 87 000 tickets having already been sold for the game between the current Premier League leaders and the defending champions.
Pirates and Chiefs have mid-week Premier League matches against Chippa United and Ajax Cape Town respectively before their showdown encounter and Buccaneers' coach Roger de Sa is likely to test McCarthy's fitness level against the fast-improving promoted club in Cape Town on Wednesday.
McCarthy scored three goals in two appearances against The Amakhosi last season and De Sa would, no doubt, like to have the lethal goalscorer in his squad for a game that will likely decide which of the Soweto giants tops the PSL log table.
Also likely to be viewing McCarthy's progress with interest is Bafana coach Gordon Igesund.
A veritable epidemic of injuries has resulted in Igesund delaying the announcement of his squad for the African Nations Cup tournament, which kicks off in South Africa on January 19.
"Naturally I'm keeping an eye on all the injuries," said Igesund, "and I expect to have a much clearer picture of how matters stand within the next 10 days or so."
But the Bafana coach reiterated a sentiment that "all players selected will have to prove their form and fitness."
In the meantime, Igesund is planning to launch his Afcon preparation with a camp in Durban starting on December 19, followed by friendly games in Durban against a yet unamed opponent, Norway in Cape Town and Algeria in Johannesburg.
And exactly who plays in these games and joins the camp will depend to a considerable degree on the injury issue.
"I'm not even thinking about playing for Bafana right now," said McCarthy, whose recall to the national squad after a lengthy absence has aroused a good deal of controversy.
"If they want me, they know where to find me," added McCarthy.
"But my thoughts right now are focused on playing for Pirates and proving my fitness."