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Pienaar-ing campaign

sports Updated: May 27, 2010 00:28 IST

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South Africa football talisman Steven Pienaar has come a long way since cowering on the floor of his childhood home to ensure he was not hit by a stray bullet.

He was voted Everton Player of the Year last week, testimony to accurate passing and a high work rate that triggered media speculation of a move to champions Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur.

And after a short end-of-season break to recharge batteries drained by a punishing English season, Pienaar will join his international teammates and Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira at their Johannesburg base.

The first World Cup hosted by Africa kicks off on June 11 with South Africa facing Mexico at the 90,000-capacity Soccer City Stadium and victory is vital if they are to survive a pool completed by ex-champions France and Uruguay.

And on the slender shoulders of left-side midfielder Pienaar lies a massive weight of national expectation as he is the sole South African performing regularly in a major European league.

A 20-minute drive from Soccer City lies Westbury, formerly a low-income, mixed-race suburb where gang violence, drug dealing and shooting were the order of the day.

Amid this mayhem in apartheid South Africa, Pienaar was warned by his single-parent mother never to sit on the couch when watching TV because she feared he might be shot.

"You never knew when a bullet might fly through the window. On the floor you were below the level of the glass and safe,” he told reporters during one of many visits for Bafana duty.

"Sitting on the couch meant risking your life. There were many stories in Westbury of people being hit by stray bullets. It is calmer there now than when I was growing up." Pienaar credits his mother for a journey that took him from the narrow, mean streets of the western Johannesburg suburb to Goodison Park via a Johannesburg football academy, Ajax Cape Town, Ajax Amsterdam and Borussia Dortmund.

She persuaded her son to enrol at the School of Excellence near Johannesburg airport and once his football talent became obvious, the sky was the limit for a star many believe will captain the national team one day.