There was an air of mystique in Cape Town yesterday ahead of the African Nations Championship, which kicks off on Saturday.
Bafana Bafana finally managed to get a practice match, but their run-out against National First Division leaders Milano United was played behind locked doors at the Philippi Stadium.
Understandably, coach Gordon Igesund is keeping his cards close to his chest ahead of the tournament opener against Mozambique at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday night (kickoff 6pm).
Igesund would be relieved that none of his players picked up injuries during the practice match, which consisted of four quarters of 30 minutes. The score is largely irrelevant, but Bafana managed a 1-0 victory after the National First Division leaders conceded a penalty in the final 30 minutes of the clash.
Bafana’s preparations have not been ideal, and Igesund probably doesn’t want the opposition to get a close look at a possible starting line-up or even his team’s playing style. However, having got most of the players he desired for the tournament, figuring out his run-on team and formation shouldn’t be rocket science.
Ajax Cape Town winger and Mozambique international Telhino was also coy when asked what South Africans can expect from their neighbours in the opening match. And it was probably because he doesn’t want to upset national coach Joao Chissano, or give away any information that could benefit Igesund’s side in some shape of form.
“I can’t answer that,” Telhino told his Portuguese interpreter with a massive smile on his face. “I don’t want to give away any secrets of the national team. I’m also in the national team, so I don’t want to betray my teammates.”
But how does the Mozambican league compare to the South African Premiership? Especially as all the countries participating are only able to use locally-based players in the tournament.
“You can’t compare the two leagues. South Africa’s PSL is very professional and here we work really hard. The PSL is also much more physical, and the league is also more direct and more competitive,” Telhino added.
Not many people know about the dangermen who lurk in the Mambas squad. However, Telhino, reluctantly, shed some light on some of the key players who are likely to face Bafana on Saturday.
“Mozambique have some great players and they have a good coach. I think the national team is going to do well here in South Africa,” he said.
“Sonito is a good striker, while the playmaker is Imo, who plays behind Sonito for the same club. Imo is the creative force and people will be very impressed by him. Josemar is also a very good midfielder and has got a very good work-rate, he gives 100 percent every game.
“Chico is a solid centre back, and then you have the experienced Almiro Lobo, who we all know played in the PSL.
“That’s why I think my teammates will do well. They respect South Africa, and it’s going to be hard. But I think we have the ability and the players to shock them.”
Mozambican champions Liga Muculmana and rivals Costa do Sol have five players each in the squad, as the Mambas make their first ever appearance at Chan.
Bafana have won all four encounters against Mozambique, scoring 10 goals and only conceding two.
MOZAMBIQUE SQUAD FOR CHAN
Goalkeepers: Pinto (Ferroviario de Maputo), Victor (Desportivo de Nacala), Soarito (HCB Songo).
Defenders: João Mazive, Dário Khan, Dito (Costa do Sol), Chico II, Miro (Liga Muculmana), Chico I (Ferroviario de Maputo), Gabito (Maxaquene).
Midfielders: Josemar, Imo (Liga Muculmana), Alvarito (Costa do Sol), Diogo (Ferroviario de Maputo), Kito (Maxaquene), Nelito (Ferroviario da Beira), Lanito (Desportivo de Maputo).
Forwards: Sonito (Liga Muculmana), Manuelito II (Costa do Sol), Isac (Maxaquene), Maninho, Mario (Ferroviario da Beira), Belito (Ferroviario de Nampula).
Saturday, January 11: Bafana Bafana v Mozambique (6pm)
Wednesday, January 15: Bafana Bafana v Mali (5pm)
Sunday, January 19: Bafana Bafana v Nigeria (7pm)
All games to be played at the Cape Town Stadium - Cape Times