Johannesburg – Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund says everything the national team does from now until the end of the year will be geared towards preparing for the African Championship of Nations (Chan) tournament in January next year.
“It's very important for us to start preparing for the Chan tournament. We'll have two friendlies coming up next month,” Igesund said on his arrival at OR Tambo International airport on Monday morning.
The team returned from playing an international friendly against Morocco in Agadir City over the weekend, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
“We'll be able to prepare the team for the tournament, but the first thing I have to do now is find out about the availability of players for Chan.
“We're going to be active and probably have about four friendlies before Chan starts.”
South Africa will host the 2014 Chan tournament – played between the 16 best national teams in Africa – and Igesund said the result against Morocco was one the national team would look to build on, as the Chan competition approached.
“Everybody want us to do well in the Chan tournament. We've been drawn in a very tough group, but we will be capable if all the players are available,” he said.
“To go to Morocco, play in front of 42,000 people and give a performance like we did is very pleasing.
“At the end of the day, we played against a very good team.
Igesund was pleased with the selection of players and the blend of the old and the new.
“We got the balance right putting the youngsters in with the experienced players. They're going to learn from them and be carried by the experienced players.
“All-in-all it was a very good exercise, I'm very pleased with it.”
He also stressed the need for the Premier Soccer League and the SA Football Association (Safa) to work together in preparing for the tournament, in order to have the best team available in January.
“The availability of players will be the most important. Of course I'd like to be able to have the best team and I'm sure the players will be available.
“This is a big tournament and we need to represent ourselves correctly.”
As the tournament does not take place during a Fifa-reserved window, local teams were under no obligation to release their players to their national team for the duration of the event.
Igesund was hopeful a compromise could be reached.
“I'm very happy with the relationship that I personally have with the teams and the leagues and the CEOs of the clubs. I'm sure there's not problem there, but it's a very tight schedule.
“We have to work together in this and we have to try and make sure it works. It's not a Fifa date, so there has to be an understanding that the clubs want to release their players.”
The Chan tournament, established in 2007 and first contested in 2009, is administered by the Confederation of African Football (Caf).
National teams have to qualify for the event and may only feature players active in their local leagues.
Players who play abroad, regardless of where, even in Africa, do not qualify to take part in the competition.
“We're playing the Chan tournament at home and we always say that we have the best league on the continent of Africa,” Igesund added.
“To do that, we can't speak about it, we have to go out and win it. At the moment, things are looking very good and I've managed to see a lot of locally-based players.” – Sapa