28 May 2009
With less than three weeks to go before the kickoff of the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup, the Bafana Bafana training camp at Johannesburg Stadium is abuzz with activity.
Speaking to BuaNews on Wednesday after an intense training session, Bafana Bafana Captain Aaron Mokoena said the expectations of South African fans was motivation enough for the team.
“The mood at the camp is positive, which shows that the players want to go out and perform their best for the country,” said Mokoena, or “Mbazo” (Axe), as he is known to his fans.
“We are playing at home, and that will add strength to our players, but on the other hand we will not underestimate our competitors because they have experienced players who are familiar with these tournaments.”
Mokoena, who has just joined Portsmouth FC from Blackburn Rovers in England, said there was a good relationship between Bafana’s overseas-based and local players.
“It is very important for players to understand each other on and off the field, because that assists players to develop mentally and also create a sense of family within the team.”
Opening match against Iraq
The squad is using the remaining days before the 14 June kick-off of Fifa’s “Festival of Continental Champions” to hone their physical and mental strength.
The team will play against Mauritius in a training match on Saturday, and against Poland in a friendly match on 6 June, before locking horns with Asian champions Iraq in the tournament’s opening match at Coca Cola Park in Johannesburg.
Bafana Bafana defender Benson Mhlongo told BuaNews that the team would not underestimate Iraq. “They are very quick on the ball and play aggressively. Though we are not frightened by them, we will have to play cautiously.
“The spirit is high among the players, and we are looking forward to the tournament and to proving our critics wrong,” the lanky defender said. “It’s going to be a do-or-die situation.”
‘Now is our time’
Mhlongo, who has been outstanding for Orlando Pirates in the past season, told BuaNews that the players wanted to emulate the 1996 squad which won the African Nations Cup by lifting the Fifa Confederations Cup trophy on home soil.
“Our rugby team and cricketers have won international titles. Now it’s time to make our soccer fans proud,” Mhlongo said.
“We need support from South Africans, and criticising the team will add no value but will dampen players’ morale,” he added.
Goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs said the entire squad, “from the technical team to the kit manager, wants to make the country proud.
“We have the fighting spirit, and with the country rallying behind us, nothing will stop us from reaching the next round of the tournament.”