Johannesburg – It seems a mountain, as big as Table Mountain which looks over the majestic Cape Town Stadium, has been lifted off the shoulders of Bafana Bafana following their triumph over Mozambique in the opening match of the African Nations Championship (Chan).
The players and coaching staff looked a bit more relaxed on Sunday following Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Mambas, as they enjoyed a light training session on a lovely, clear summer’s day in Cape Town.
This was in stark contrast to last week’s overcast weather and the gloomy mood with which Bafana entered the tournament, following some upheaval in getting all the players in camp.
Patches of the performance on Saturday night in front of a decent crowd still mirrored Bafana’s lack of match preparation – they have had only one warm-up match ahead of the tournament. But there were more positives than negatives, and the three goals the team scored would have been very satisfying.
The win, though, is the biggest positive, especially as Bafana haven’t won an opening match in the last three major tournaments they have hosted.
Chan is certainly not a major tournament by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a tournament that coach Gordon Igesund and his bosses definitely want to win.
Chan has been given “A-status” by Fifa, and is going to count for ranking points. And Bafana are looking to move up the ladder to be one of the seeded teams when the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers come around next year.
For now, though, it is all about qualifying from the group for the quarter-finals for Igesund and his men, and it seems they are headed in the right direction.
“I think it was very, very important for us to win this first game. When we played in the Africa Cup of Nations we drew our first game, and from there it was difficult and we were under a lot of pressure,” Igesund said.
“This win will give us a lot of confidence, but it will also give the supporters something to cheer about, and encourage them to fill the stadium when we play.
“History will tell you that the team who win the first game of any tournament have a 70percent chance of qualifying. But I know it’s not 100percent, and we still have work to do. We still have to play Mali and Nigeria, but it’s a great start for us, for sure.”
Mali and Nigeria, as witnessed in the late match on Saturday night, will be a lot stronger than Mozambique, who quite frankly look like they are going to be cannon fodder in Group A.
While the Mambas took a surprise lead against Bafana, they never really threatened the home side. South Africa’s northeast neighbours gave too much ball away in midfield, and weren’t as technically sound as Bafana.
Bafana’s next opponents Mali, who surprised Nigeria 2-1, are a lot more physical and direct in their approach. They have some big players in midfield, and also possess plenty of pace and power upfront.
This match could be the most important of the group, as it could decide who qualify for the quarter-finals as the top side in Group A.
Mali will test the relatively inexperienced Bafana back four who, besides Thabo Nthethe’s blunder which led to the Mozambican goal, had a relatively easy ride in the first game of the tournament.
“They (Mozambique) gave us a good battle and a good fight, but I thought we were by far the better team.
“We had the goals and we were in full control for the 90 minutes,” Igesund said of Mozambique.
“I think they gave it everything they had, trying to play on the counter attack, but today we were stronger than them in most departments.”
The slippery Cape Town pitch came in for some stick after the match, as the sprinklers were put on straight after the covers for the opening ceremony were removed.
However, Igesund defended the pitch and the ground staff, saying it was a great playing surface.
“I think, first of all, let me compliment the groundsman. The field is in absolutely magnificent condition for football. It needed a bit of water, because it was a bit dry on Friday,” Igesund said.
“But I don’t think it’s slippery because of the water, I think it’s slippery because it has some nice grass on it.
“This is a great pitch and I’m sure everybody who plays here is going to enjoy their football.”