Johannesburg - Bafana Bafana boarded a jet plane to Sao Paulo Monday morning, with Gordon Igesund’s main concern probably that a player didn’t injure himself climbing onto the aircraft.
It hasn’t been the easiest start to his tenure for the new Bafana coach, never mind that his side are taking on Brazil in their own back yard on Friday at the Estadio Morumbi (kick off 8.45pm SA time).
Already deprived of two key players with long term injuries ahead of this game, in Morgan Gould and Katlego Mphela, Igesund has now also lost his key striker Siyabonga Nomvethe, captain Steven Pienaar, and even Nomvethe’s initial replacement, Edward Manqele.
The situation has got desperate enough for Igesund to call an out-of-touch Benni McCarthy into his squad. McCarthy has been battling with a calf injury and it remains to be seen just how match-fit Bafana’s leading international scorer is this week, as he looks to make his first Bafana appearance in over two years.
Bafana have two counters at OR Tambo International Airport exclusively reserved to secure the passage of their abundant luggage, but it is unlikely they are going to experience such generosity in Sao Paulo from a Brazil team bursting at the seams with talent.
With such a striker crisis, Igesund may well regret not being able to call Malmo striker Tokelo Rantie into his squad. Igesund said last week that Rantie was not fit enough to travel, but the former Pirates striker has been in excellent form for his club, netting again in a league game against Mjalby on Saturday.
Rantie started that game, making it rather difficult to see how he is not fit to start for Bafana. Steven Pienaar also played 90 minutes for Everton against West Brom this weekend in the English Premier League, but his club have reported that he has a grade two thigh muscle pull.
With Pienaar, Igesund has lost his leader and plenty of midfield creativity, though George Malu-leka probably deserves his call up after a superb start to his second spell at SuperSport United.
This game and the September 11 friendly against Mozambique also gives Igesund, as he has said, an opportunity to try out some of his new call-ups, in about as daunting an arena as a friendly is likely to produce.
Brazil rarely play friendlies at home, and have become the Harlem Globetrotters of the game - the samba skills of the five-time world champions attracting capacity crowds around the world.
Friday is also Brazil’s Independence Day, giving Mano Menezes’ side extra incentive to perform in front of a passionate home crowd starved of seeing their national side in action at home.
Facing the likes of Hulk, Ramires, Neymar and Lucas Moura should certainly provide a serious step up in class for the likes of Peterborough United’s Kgosi Nthle, Oldham Athletic’s Dean Furman and Free State Stars’ Katlego Mashego, if not for the whole Bafana squad.
Even for Igesund, who has shone domestically over the years, but never coached internationally, this should provide a whole new tactical board game. In Igesund’s favour, one would be forgiven for greeting with delirious laugher anyone suggesting anything other than a Brazilian victory.
Bafana and Igesund should be able to simply enjoy and learn from the experience of playing one of the great footballing nations on their own patch, and a creditable defeat, with some encouraging performances, should do just nicely.