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Everton`s Pienaar carries South African hopes

Johannesburg: As the subject of speculation over a possible off-season move away from Everton to Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur, Steven Pienaar has a much higher profile than his South African team mates.

Since the diminutive, sinewy midfielder became a fan favourite at Premier League Everton, Pienaar has aroused expectations back home and will carry the bulk of the hosts` hopes in the World Cup finals.

It is a task the 28-year-old is quite capable of handling but his reserved nature holds him back from publicly claiming a place as talisman of the home team.

Born in the tough, mixed-race Johannesburg neighbourhood of Westbury, Pienaar`s singular focus on football allowed him to resist the temptations of drugs and gang warfare that dominated the streets around his boyhood home.

He was sent away as 13-year-old to the South African Football Association`s academy and earmarked as a prodigy. But after a multitude of matches for the country`s junior teams, he was suddenly deemed too small and physically ineffective to make the professional ranks, and was ignored by most of the country`s top sides.

His tireless running, smart positional play and unquestionable appetite for the ball found a home at Ajax Cape Town, where it soon became apparent that the others clubs had made an error of judgement.

From Cape Town he moved in 2001 to Ajax Amsterdam, where he played regularly and successfully in the Dutch league, and earned a transfer to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.

South Africa took him to the 2002 World Cup but as a junior squad member he got no playing time and little of a positive experience.

Pienaar found Germany tough, too, and his team mates cold, he has said in interviews. The style of football also passed over his head and left him often sidelined.

His career revived quickly at Everton, first on loan and then as an outright two-million-pound ($3.09-million) purchase by manager David Moyes.

Two full seasons since then have seen Pienaar become an invaluable team member at Goodison Park, despite a long-standing ankle problem that occasionally leaves him sidelined.

Bureau Report

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