Coach Gordon Igesund says he will stick to his guns and pick the strongest available players for Bafana Bafana in the future despite the shambles that proceeded the selection of his 23-man squad for the African Nations Championship (Chan).
Igesund finally got his full squad together yesterday after the late arrival of the Kaizer Chiefs contingent and Wits goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs, and all his charges had their first run out on an uncharacteristically wet January afternoon in the Mother City. Only injured left-back Tsepo Masilela didn’t take the field at Santos’ training base, with Igesund mentioning that his replacement will be confirmed this morning.
Many critics suggested that the four-time league winner Igesund play an “Under-20” team in the tournament after the Bafana’s preparations were marred by Chiefs, and to a lesser extent Wits, initially refusing to release their players for Chan, which is only for footballers who ply their trade in the league of the country of their birth.
While Shakes Mashaba’s national Under-20 side recently won the Cosafa Cup, Igesund says that the pace and the intensity of this tournament could be too much for the youngsters to handle.
“This is the senior national team, and this is a tournament for senior national players. Many people suggested that I put in the Under-20s, but that would be the biggest mistake that I will make because I will ruin those players,” said Igesund.
“They are not physically strong enough for a tournament like this. You have got to bring them in slowly like I did last year.
“As I said, the average age of these guys (in the squad) is 24, come the 2018 World Cup they will be 28, so how much younger must I go?
“I got to have players that are ready to play in the national team. The young players will get their chance and they will play when they are ready. So we will take our time with that, and I’m not going to change my philosophy and my principles,” Igesund added.
With everybody in camp, Igesund is still trying to organise a practice match for tonight ahead of the tournament opener against Mozambique at the Cape Town Stadium (kick-off 6pm).
“One of the only things that I’m concerned about is that we haven’t been able to get a match. We tried to get hold of Uganda, but they only get here tomorrow, we tried to get a match with Morocco, but they only get here the day after that. We were even talking to Ghana,” Igesund said.
“So hopefully tomorrow we will have a friendly game. Up until right now we don’t have one, and it looks like we might play against one of the local teams. But we have to get a game under our belts before the start of the tournament.”
Igesund is also desperate to start the tournament off with a win to avoid playing catch up, much like they did during last year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), as they also have African powerhouses Nigeria and the physical Mali their group.
“There are no easy games in international football. It’s going to be difficult. We know that Nigeria will have a good team here, and we know that Mali are a big team and will be really physical. Mozambique are no different,” Igesund said.
At least the players’ confidence will still be sky high following their historic 1-0 victory over Spain. Hopefully, for Igesund, there will be no more hiccups in his preparations. - The Star