16 January 2013
Coach Gordon Igesund is confident that Bafana Bafana are well prepared to make noise in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which kicks off on Saturday with South Africa facing Cape Verde in the tournament opener at Johannesburg’s National Stadium.
In a hour-long phone-in programme on radio station SAfm earlier this week, Igesund defended his charges’ results – they lost 1-0 to Norway and drew 0-0 with Algeria in their two most recent matches – saying he had ensured the players were tested by quality opposition.
Igesund said he could have arranged warm-up matches against lesser opposition, which almost certainly would have resulted in wins, but those victories would have given fans a distorted picture of the ability of his team. Playing against sides like Brazil, Poland, Norway and Algeria really put the players through their paces, reckoned Igesund, and he hoped that the rewards would be reaped in Afcon 2013.
On Tuesday, Bafana Bafana received the backing of President Jacob Zuma, who visited them at Orlando Stadium. Zuma addressed the players in private and then spoke out against critics of the team, saying: “There are too many critics in this country, and I was telling the team that others who are critics have never touched the ball and they don’t know how it feels on the pitch.
“I was telling them that we are satisfied that the team is ready; we have seen it in the recent matches they have played,” Zuma said.
“We are satisfied that the team is well prepared for the tournament and we came to say to them they must relax and not be tense and not listen to the critics.
‘I am confident’
“I am confident at this time, more than at any other time that we will show people what we are made of as South Africans,” Zuma said.
“I also wanted to tell the team that the entire country is behind them, even those that are critical; it is because of the love they have for the team. I said I want to touch the cup, because if it is won by another country I won’t touch it.
“Looking at them, I can tell they are ready and confident.”
Looking for a goal scorer
Bafana Bafana are looking for a goal scorer to emerge during Afcon 2013, much like Benni McCarthy did in Burkina Faso in 1998. McCarthy tied with Hossam Hassan of Egypt as the tournament’s top goal scorer and, not coincidently, both teams made the final, with Egypt winning 2-0.
Two years earlier, in 1996, Zambia’s Kalusha Bwalya was the top goal scorer with five goals, which helped the Zambians reach the semi-finals. South Africa’s John Moshoeu and Mark Williams were the second leading scorers, on four goals each, and South Africa lifted the Afcon trophy.
Igesund was at pains to point out that his charges had dominated their games against Norway and Algeria, both ranked in the the 20s by Fifa, enjoying 70 percent of the possession and more chances than their opponents.
Neil Tovey, the captain of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations winning team, suggested that the current side needs more movement up front.
Indeed, it was noticeable how tied to certain areas of the field Bafana Bafana’s attacking players appeared to be in their recent warm-up matches. There is certainly room for some insightful running up front.
The issue, as it has been for a long time, is finishing. Bafana are creating enough chances to win. They appear able to compete with any of the African nations in the possession stakes. They simply need to convert those chances, and the country could again be partying like it did in 1996.
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