Gaborone - Back home, Bafana Bafana may be a source of scorn and jokes, but here they are still revered, as seen from their training session at the match venue for today’s World Cup qualifier against Botswana (3pm).
Dozens of excited local fans came to watch Bafana’s only training session at the University of Gaborone Stadium and, when it was all finished, they crammed into the fence separating the grandstand and the pitch to wave at their supposed heroes and request handshakes.
There’s no question that Bafana are held in high regard on these shores, hence tickets for this afternoon’s clash were sold out within hours of going on sale, but it is back home where Steve Komphela’s men should be seeking to make an impression.
By Komphela’s own admission, the South African team have “gone through hell” this week, when Pitso Mosimane’s sacking as head coach planted a negative spirit in the camp, but the interim coach stated yesterday that they had recovered and should be ready to vanquish their neighbours.
“We arrived last night and had a meeting after dinner. From there you could see the mood of the players has become more relaxed than it was at the beginning of the week. They have realised they had to quickly move forward. They are focused and are saying it’s high time we win,” he said after the training session.
A lot of factors should favour Bafana, including unexpectedly warm weather conditions that had Komphela saying “the only difference between Gaborone and Rustenburg is the border”, and Botswana’s internal problems which led to the withdrawal of senior players. But the pitch, as Komphela pointed out, “could have been better”.
“We understand that this match is being played at a university stadium because the national stadium is being upgraded. It could have been better, but in the absence of anything better, we have to make do with what is there and should not complain. There’s no question, however, that this stadium’s capacity and playing surface are not of international standard.”
The grass on the University Stadium looks anything but green and, while some of the Bafana players had thought they would be able to impose their game, they might struggle due to its compact nature.
But Komphela will have little time for excuses. He knows the importance of victory here, which would not only put Bafana’s Brazil 2014 dream back on track but would also help his bid to take over the team on a permanent basis after being named one of five coaches on the Safa shortlist.
“I’m aware that I made the shortlist. If I’m chosen (to be full-time coach) it would be a unique honour and privilege. It is the responsibility of Safa to choose whoever they see fit. If I’m not chosen I won’t be too bothered. I have worked for the nation before under various coaches, so whether I’m head coach or assistant doesn’t matter. If I don’t get this job, it doesn’t mean I’m suddenly a citizen of another country. I’m still South African.”
Komphela, meanwhile, indicated he would keep the bulk of Mosimane’s starting XI that drew with Ethiopia last weekend. “You can’t make drastic changes. We’ll make minor changes to get a result. But I won’t be afraid to make decisions.”
Bafana have not won for nine months but Komphela said he was “very optimistic” that would change, stating the terrible week which they’ve had may just be the wake-up call they required.
“Sometimes you need to go through hell to move forward. Conflict is good progression, and we hope to make progress by winning.”
Meanwhile, Thulani Serero (groin) is doubtful for the match. - Saturday Star