JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's home-based squad players have made such a dramatic improvement that the host country's European contingent face a struggle to secure their usual starting places for the World Cup finals.
"It's a good problem for a coach to (have) but it is giving me a headache," coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said as he mulled who to select before trimming his squad to 23.
"I have to make some tough decisions," he added.
His dilemma is whether to stick by the home-based players he has worked with continuously since March or make room in an improving team for more experienced, overseas-based players.
South Africa finished their league season early in February to allow Parreira to take the best domestic-based players for intensive training camps in Brazil and Germany.
This group now seems to have an edge over many of the European-based players, who have only joined the World Cup preparations in the last fortnight.
"The competition is very tough between the overseas and home based players," the coach added.
Parreira, who plans to name his final squad on May 31 as they prepare for group matches with Mexico, Uruguay and France, started with the South Africa-based players against Bulgaria in a warm-up match at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Monday.
After a 1-1 draw in which Siyabonga Sangweni opened the scoring before Valeri Bojinov equalised, Parreira again expressed his delight at the progress of his team.
Teko Modise, playing his 50th international in three years, led the way in a playmaking role and Parreira heaped particular praise on Thanduyise Khuboni, virtually unknown before this season but now entrenched in a holding midfield role.
"He is man of the match game after game. We were laughed at when we first introduced him," said Parreira.
In the second half, the coach did introduce some of his 10 foreign-based players for the first time since last November including Portsmouth defender Aaron Mokoena, Fulham midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi and Israeli-based left back Tsepo Masilela.
But a cold sidelined West Ham United striker Benni McCarthy and Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar was not used after having an extra week to rest before joining the squad last Friday.
McCarthy's fitness and podgy frame have been the subject of much media coverage in South Africa over the last week and he now faces a tough fight to get into the starting lineup for the opening World Cup match against Mexico on June 11.
However, he is not the only established player who will have a tough fight to break into the lineup for the finals.
Parreira made it clear many top names will now find it hard to win places in the team that they usually take for granted.
"It is always difficult to establish a shape and I am not intending to change the shape of the team now," said Parreira.
South Africa had been given little chance of making any impact at the finals but they are now gaining in confidence.
For their next World Cup warm-up against Colombia on Thursday at Johannesburg's Soccer City, Parreira said he would only tinker slightly and keep down the number of changes.
"I want the team to be settled," he said.comments