Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund has first-hand experience of Mali’s big bruisers after a few of them towered above in the hotel elevator this week.
There is certainly a buzz around Mali’s physicality ahead of their clash with the African Nations Championship (CHAN) hosts at Cape Town Stadium (tomorrow, kick-off 5pm).
Mali surprised their West African neighbours Nigeria with a 2-1 win in the second match of the tournament. They impressed with their pace and power all over the park to put away the Super Eagles.
Bafana’s opener against Mozambique wasn’t quite a physical affair, as the South Africans outplayed their neighbours with quick passes through the middle and down the flanks.
Igesund’s men, though, look technically superior, and it could be a case of one-touch football for Bafana instead, of mixing it up with the some of Mali giants in a battle for the “second” ball.
However, South Africa’s midfielders Sibusiso Vilakazi and Matthew Pattison seem to be relishing the opportunity to get stuck into Mali, the duo talking about subdue and conquer tactics.
“They are really physical, but at the end of the day you have to compete with that and go out and beat them. We have to compete with each team that we come across,” Vilakazi said.
“You always need to win your battles before your quality can shine through. If you don’t do those things you can come unstuck. We have to compete with them,” Pattison added.
Igesund’s a wily coach, so he will probably prefer that his players play a quick game rather than “trying to compete” with Mali in the physical stakes. And it was evident at yesterday’s training session that he wants to his charges to make use of quick passes in and around the opposition penalty area.
After a lengthy warm-up session, the team spent almost the whole training session working on their attacking play, while Saturday’s goal scorer Hlompho Kekana continued to have a few shot from range – some hit the back of the net, while others sailed in one of the neighbours’ pool in the affluent neighbourhood.
Accuracy is going to be very important, especially as Bafana weren’t sharp enough, particularly in the first half, against Mozambique. Wayward passes will be pounced upon by Mali, as they showed that they are deadly on the counter.
“Mali are a big threat for us. So it’s going to be a tough one again, but we will be prepared for them, and we have got the added motivation to maybe secure first place in the group with a win,” Vilakazi said.
“We created chances (against Mozambique), which is great. But we have to convert those chances. If you are creating chances and you convert most of them, you have a good chance of winning the game.
“It’s something that we have been working on, especially the midfielders and the strikers. But we know we are going to improve with every game we play.”
“The General”, as Vilakazi is affectionately known had a decent outing against the Mambas on Saturday.
“I expected it to be tough in this tournament. It’s something that I have prepared for so I can settle at the international stage,” he said.
“Africa is strong continent, and it has got good strong players. So we have to compete hard as well. These are games that have to prove your worth, and that is the challenge for me as well.
“It is never simple, because every game we are going to play in this tournament is going to hard. If it was simple against Mozambique then we should have scored 10 in the game, but it wasn’t. Mozambique were tough.” - The Star