9 January 2014
South African Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula has wished Bafana Bafana well ahead of the Orange Caf African Nations Championship (Chan), which kicks off at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
South Africa tackle Mozambique in the tournament’s opening match. They also face Mali on 15 January and Nigeria on 19 January at the same venue to complete their fixtures in Group A.
Mbalula visited the Bafana squad at their base camp in Cape Town on Tuesday to offer words of encouragement before the start of the tournament. He also sounded a warning, telling the players: “If you go with the mentality that teams have not sent strong players here you are going to be surprised by Mozambique. They will want to come here and embarrass you.
“And you don’t want to appear as people who did not give their all and did not want to represent their country. I thought I needed to emphasise that point that we have pride in you, and we are confident that all of you will make this country of ours proud. Rewards come at the end, not at the beginning.”
The teams competing in the African Nations Championship are made up of players who ply their trade in their home countries. Mbalula said the competition is crucial for the growth of the South African national team.
“Anyone who says this competition is not serious is making a big mistake and misleading the country. This competition is taking place in South Africa and is a very important competition.
“All the 16 teams that are coming here have not been invited or co-opted or asked by Caf to come here. They had to compete to get here. They earned their right to be in South Africa with us. It is time for the people of South Africa to have pride,” he added.
“You are going to compete with the best on the African continent. This is our path and journey to glory. It starts with Chan.”
Bafana Bafana captain Itumeleng Khune responded to Mbalula’s address, saying: “We are going to go out there with the knowledge that we have your support and the country’s. As players we need to inform you that we are taking this tournament very seriously and will do our best to ensure great results.”
Midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala, the most experienced member of the squad, with 85 caps to his name, on Wednesday told the media a good result in Bafana’s opening match was vitally important.
“Every match we play is important,” he said, “but the first game is very crucial because it is always good to start the tournament on a high. A win sets a very nice tone for the rest of the competition. It is good for the team’s morale and for the fans.”
Tshabalala also expressed confidence in South Africa’s preparations. “The stakes and the expectations are high for us to do well. I believe we are ready after days of hard work and will continue doing so in the remaining two days. I am positive that the 11 players that will be selected to do the job on Saturday will succeed,” he said.
Striker Katlego Mphela echoed Tshabalala’s sentiments, saying: “We want to do well in every game we play. We are raring to go. We know what we have to do and we are well aware how important the first match is. We have to start with a bang.”
Meanwhile, coach Gordon Igesund was forced into a late change to his squad on Wednesday because of an injury to Jabulani Shongwe, who was replaced by Matty Pattison.
Commenting on the change, Igesund said: “It is never good to lose any player, especially through injury, but I am sad to say Shongwe will no longer be a part of us for this tournament due to a tear that won’t heal in time for the tournament, so we have had to withdraw him from the squad.
“But I believe I have found a perfect replacement in Pattison. Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game and we have to soldier on.”