JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Australia's last home game before the World Cup threatens to be undermined after 11 out of 18 players withdrew from South Africa's initial traveling squad for the friendly in Sydney next week.
The 11 were unavailable through a combination of injuries and clubs not wanting to release their players for friendlies in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa coach Gordon Igesund said on Tuesday.
The fixtures fall outside of FIFA's official window for friendlies, meaning clubs do not have to let their players go even though South Africa's domestic season was over.
Australia identified Monday's game against a full-strength South Africa team as important for its World Cup preparations. It has only one fixture after that, against Croatia in Brazil on June 6, before facing Chile, 2010 World Cup finalist the Netherlands, and world champion Spain in group games at the World Cup.
Igesund called the situation "frustrating," and said nine of the 11 players who withdrew would have likely started against Australia. Igesund picked a new 18-man group after finding out only two days before the planned departure for Australia that some players pulled out. He said he was unable to hold training on Tuesday morning because there were not enough players present, according to the South African Press Association.
South Africa's squad was due to leave for Australia on Wednesday, but will depart on Thursday.
It was also unclear if one player in the new squad, striker Kermit Erasmus, would be available as he had possibly already gone on holiday to Europe and wasn't answering his phone, Igesund said.
South Africa is also due to play New Zealand in Auckland on May 30. Neither of the teams have qualified for the World Cup.