A strong showing by the host nation always enlivens any international tournament, but eight months before next summer's World Cup finals South Africa's prospects look dismal after a run of such bad results that coach Joel Santana has just departed. A Fifa ranking of 85th in the world – between Mozambique and Haiti – is Bafana Bafana's lowest for 15 years. They failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations in January and eight defeats in nine games meant the end for Santana, who had been strongly criticised for refusing to recall Blackburn's Benni McCarthy to an attack short of goals. Recriminations started even before Friday's appointment of Carlos Alberto Parreira, with allegations that the former president of the South African federation, Molefi Oliphant, was recommended to hire Luiz Felipe Scolari in April 2008 but chose Santana instead. Had he secured Scolari, of course, Chelsea would not have done so that summer...
Chelsea's worthless omen
One of the less remarkable statistics trotted out after Chelsea had suffered a second defeat of the season last week was that they had never won the Premier League after losing two of their first nine games. That's "never" in two championship seasons. More interestingly, in their only previous title-winning season, 1954-55, Ted Drake's team were beaten no fewer than six times by the end of October – including an epic 6-5 home defeat by Manchester United – and finished as champions despite 10 losses. There's hope yet, Rafa.
Mascot theft is mane idea
An honourable mention to a couple of good causes. Special Olympics Great Britain, which provides sporting opportunities for people with learning disabilities, will have won many friends by abducting three of those grotesque mascots who parade round grounds, and occasionally get into fights with each other. Chelsea's Stamford the Lion, Manchester United's Fred the Red and Newcastle's Monty the Magpie have all gone missing apparently, although they shouldn't prove difficult to identify; Stamford is described as "6ft 5, with a long tail and cat-like features with a large mane". Contributions to the ransom can be made at getourmascotback.com. Alternatively you could donate an extra-large amount and suggest that the abductors keep them. Equally worthy is the Football League's campaign Enjoy the Match, which tries to ensure that family areas at grounds are free of the sort of supporter who attends games principally to be allowed to shout obscenities in public. You can join the thousands who have already signed up at enjoythematch.co.uk
Carragher's pillow talk
Fabio Capello, Carlos Tevez and – rather unkindly – Jamie Carragher are among football's personalities being sent a new pillow that could help improve their language skills by playing English lessons as they drift off to sleep. The Sound-Asleep pillow incorporates a speaker that plays tapes via an MP3 player but without the inconvenience of headphones and without disturbing anyone else who happens to be in the same bed. Learning this way is apparently growing in popularity with the student population and Nick Littlehales, a "professional sports sleeping recovery coach", claims: "Listening to 20 to 30 minutes of a language tape as you drift off to sleep can help the brain to absorb and retain additional material." We await Fabio's next England press conference with interest.
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