MENTAL strength and confidence are as much a part of football as a striker side-footing the ball into the back of the net or a goalkeeper coming off his line to meet a cross.
Some people would even say it’s more important, because without those elements, the ball often doesn’t roll into the back of the net or gets fumbled inside the penalty area.
In the case of Chippa United goalkeeper Daouda Kassaly, it’s been a tough couple of weeks trying to nurse the mental scars left by his howler in their defeat at Ajax Cape Town two weekends ago.
He copped criticism from all sectors, and rightly so, after trying to dribble past Ajax striker Khama Billiat just outside the penalty area, before being dispossessed and chipped. That goal changed the whole complexion of the match, and the Urban Warriors scored the winner soon after to beat Chippa 3-2.
But Kassaly’s coach, Farouk Abrahams, himself a former goalkeeper, has backed his Niger shot-stopper and has even handed him the captaincy for tonight’s match against Orlando Pirates at Athlone Stadium (7.30pm kickoff).
It’s a bold move, but one Abrahams is hoping will boost Kassaly’s confidence to his usual level before he takes up his place between the sticks against some of the country’s most potent attacking talents.
Pirates have scored 13 goals in their last six fixtures, with Zambian hitman Collins Mbesuma spearheading the attack.
They will also welcome back veteran striker Benni McCarthy, who will be part of the Bucs’ match-day squad and have his first outing since injuring his hamstring while coming on as a substitute in Bafana’s friendly international defeat against Brazil on September 7.
Pirates, though, will be without the suspended Sifiso Myeni, who has been their spark in attack over the last few months. Bafana defender Siyabonga Sangweni, who has also scored some crucial goals in his time, is also not eligible to play.
Kassaly isn’t a bad goalkeeper at all. Besides his brain explosion against Ajax, he has actually kept his team in a lot of fixtures this season, while also picking up plenty of Man-of-the-Match awards.
He is a great shot-stopper, although he still fumbles the odd cross or corner. His distribution is also tidy. But, just as the armband can give him a lift, it might just add more pressure on to his shoulders to perform. Especially against a team like Pirates, who are likely to test him more than any other team he has faced so far in the league.
Luckily, he will have the comfort of Buyani Sali in front of his back-four, after the midfield terrier missed the last couple of games through suspension.
Sali is set to partner the impressive Larry Cohen in central midfield in a move designed to free up veteran Brent Carelse to play a more advanced and attacking role.
Carelse’s creativity and skill is going to be essential if Chippa are going to control the ball and, more importantly, the tempo of the game, as they have tended to fade against teams that play at high-speed.
Pirates are going to come out firing from the first minute, although it remains to be seen how they will approach this fixture, with the highly-anticipated Soweto derby just over the horizon. The feeling is that Pirates coach Roger de Sa will also blood a few fringe players for the encounter to keep his team fresh for the derby. Chippa have to take advantage of this, because it could be the best time to play Pirates if they aren’t 100% focused on the job at hand tonight.
(all matches 7.30pm kickoff)
Tonight: Chippa United v Orlando Pirates (Athlone Stadium), Wits v University of Pretoria (Bidvest Stadium), Black Leopards v AmaZulu (Peter Mokaba Stadium), Free State Stars v Mamelodi Sundowns (Charles Mopeli Stadium).