Durban – The start of the African Cup of Nations is just a month away yet, tellingly, there is more of a buzz about the Boks, the Proteas – just about anything else but Bafana Bafana’s prospects in the continental showpiece.
The sense of relief that greeted Gordon Igesund’s arrival as national coach has slowly but surely dissolved into a familiar feeling of dread.
Things haven’t been easy for the domestically decorated Igesund, and his recent results have done nothing to create any realistic hope of landing the trophy.
The Bafana coach has long maintained that he cannot be judged on his results over the past few months. He has repeatedly pointed to the end of the year, when he will have his squad in camp, with double training sessions each day, as the really pivotal part of the build-up. Whichever way you look at it, Igesund has inadvertently backed himself into a corner that he can only get out of by delivering a successful run when it counts.
There is also the small matter of the stipulation in his contract that dictates that he must at least make the semi-finals. All these little details have been weighing heavily on Igesund’s mind as his first major assignment is rapidly approaching. It’s no wonder that he has asked for a little help from Neil Tovey and “Shakes” Mashaba to keep an eye on his group opponents.
Injury has also robbed him of many established stars, and the striker curse that has been on the rampage has also meant that even when Bafana create openings, there is no one there to finish them off.
But, slowly, Igesund’s ammunition is being handed back to him. Significantly, Benni McCarthy and Katlego Mphela are back from injuries, and that alone is reason for Igesund to feel slightly more cheerful.
The experienced duo are the most prolific international strikers in Bafana history, and their fitness has already been acknowledged by Igesund as absolutely central to the game-plan. With either one on the pitch, there is a quiet reassurance that a goal is around the corner.
They, however, will not be part of this weekend’s friendly against Malawi in Durban.
Igesund will use it to test his local players who are still not certainties for the final squad, as it is not an official Fifa fixture.
That minor detail has also robbed locals of the chance to see what the fuss about Ayanda Patosi is about. The sharp-eyed midfield ace has been making waves in Belgium, and his ability to score with either foot only adds to the anticipation.
But, we will have to wait a little longer to see if the “10” that Bafana so desperately crave has been hiding in the land of chocolate and Hollywood action heroes.
For now, though, the camera and action is on the Malawi meeting. In terms of drumming up fervour for the African showpiece, the friendly is a final chance for Bafana to win over the city that they will be based in during the tournament.
Durban, by nature, takes a while to warm to the task of cheerleader, but once they are on board, they provide a partisan, patriotic carnival that can only inspire Igesund’s men.
If Bafana can play with purpose on Saturday, and then couple that with the promise of even more to come when the overseas cavalry arrives, they may just secure the crucial 12th man they will need for their battles against Morocco and Angola.
A few goals will also help to start building a snowball of excitement for the continental extravaganza. At the moment, you could swear that it is being held in another country.
It is time for Bafana to change that, and get this show on the road. – Sunday Tribune