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Durban – The media scrum at Bafana training on Thursday was noticeably enlarged, an inevitable by-product of the hosts’ on-going success at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Television cameras and microphones jutted out from every angle, their numeracy juxtaposed by the brevity of the interviews. Bafana’s players would presumably like to do most of their talking on the field, and as long as they keep on progressing towards the continental title, it is hard to put up too much of an argument.
One man almost certain to make his tournament debut against Mali in Saturday’s quarter-final at the Moses Mabhida Stadium (Kick off 8.30pm) is right-back Siboniso Gaxa. With Anele Ngcongca suspended, coach Gordon Igesund has already said that the Kaizer Chiefs right-back, an experienced replacement with 54 caps for his country, will step into the breach.
Gaxa claimed ignorance when asked about his potential start against the Eagles.
“I don’t know about me being in line to start the match … no one is guaranteed a start, we will see on Saturday,” he said.
“Of course it would be nice representing your country on home soil in the quarter-final,” he did add. “I am looking forward to that if I do start.”
Mali are likely to present Bafana with their biggest test yet at this tournament, a side ranked third on the continent, packed with experience, physical power and no little talent.
“They are a big, strong team,” said Gaxa.
“We play different football. We have our strengths and they have theirs.”
Bafana’s method against Mali will have to focus on their quick possession game, and keeping the ball on the ground, as they eventually did to good effect against Morocco.
The pace of Bafana’s wide men could also test Mali’s full backs, with Thuso Phala and even Gaxa set to give Bafana plenty of width down the right.
Should Igesund want to add a bit more physical steel to the centre of his midfield, however, he could well turn to Kagiso Dikgacoi.
Dikgacoi was poor in the opening match against Cape Verde, and injury has since kept him on the sidelines, for all but the final seconds of the 2-2 draw with Morocco.
But the signs from training are that he could be back to battle with the likes of Seydou Keita on Saturday night.
“It’s not only him (Keita); they have good quality players, big boys and it will be physically tough for us,” said Dikgacoi on Thursday.
“We just have to stick to our game plan and approach the game with a positive mind.”
Dikgacoi admitted that competition had been fierce for places in the centre of Bafana midfield with Dean Furman coming in and making one of those places all his own.
“It is always competitive but I am happy for Dean,” said Dikgacoi.
“He has done well since coming into the national team. The competition is tough but I will still fight for my position.”
Bafana will hope to use home advantage in their favour on Saturday, with a typically fervent Durban crowd, in a city where they have traditionally performed so well, determined to roar them on to victory. But Mali have their own extra motivation, playing for a country embroiled in civil war.
“We have done well in Durban, it is good for us, we are looking forward to this one,” added Gaxa.
“Obviously it is unfortunate that in Mali there is a war they are fighting. But we also want to win and do well going forward. We are hosting the tournament and we want to do well for ourselves and for the nation.” – The Star