Steven Pienaar retires from international football

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) -South Africa captain Steven Pienaar has retired from international football only three months before his country hosts the African Cup of Nations, citing the physical toll of playing for both Bafana Bafana and English Premier League team Everton.

The midfielder's decision was announced by the South African Football Association on Tuesday as coach Gordon Igesund named his Bafana squad for two upcoming friendlies.

"He's given us 10 years of service and his body is tired," Igesund said.

Defender Bongani Khumalo of Greek club PAOK Thessaloniki will take over the captaincy permanently after standing in for Pienaar in recent games.

But Igesund also said he would try to convince Pienaar to change his mind. The 30-year-old midfielder had been a key part of South Africa's plans in the African Cup next January and February, and when the team tries to qualify for the next World Cup in Brazil.

Pienaar told SAFA of his decision in a letter, which was read out by SAFA chief executive Robin Petersen at Tuesday's news conference.

In it, Pienaar wrote that "it is with regret that I announce my retirement from international football."

"I'm proud to have represented and captained my country. For this I sincerely thank you and wish the team all the best in the future," Pienaar said in the letter.

Pienaar, who made his debut in 2002, said his 10-year international career had left him struggling physically. He phoned Igesund to inform him of his decision on Monday, the coach said.

"I am disappointed that Steven has retired from the national team," Igesund said. "His presence and leadership is invaluable and could have helped us in our mission ... but we must respect his decision. When I travel overseas to check on other players, I will try to have a word with him."

Pienaar's absence will be a major blow for Igesund, who had hoped to build South Africa's team around the former Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham player at next year's Cup of Nations and in the qualifying competition for the 2014 World Cup.

Pienaar played more than 50 games for South Africa but was becoming increasingly absent for international duty because of injury and his commitments to Everton.

South Africa replaced Libya as host of the 2013 African Cup, giving the former World Cup host nation a chance to restore its reputation on the field within African football after it failed to qualify for the last two continental championships.

Igesund took over from former coach Pitso Mosimane following South Africa's embarrassing failure to reach the last Cup of Nations, when players celebrated a draw on the field believing they had qualified. In fact, they needed to win.

Next year's African Cup runs from Jan. 19-Feb. 10. South Africa has lined up friendlies this month against Poland and Kenya.

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