at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Katlego Mphela has declared himself fit to start for Bafana Bafana, as they go in search of a crucial victory against Angola tomorrow afternoon in Durban.
Mphela was used as a substitute in Bafana’s insipid, goalless Africa Nations Cup opener against Cape Verde on Saturday evening, with coach Gordon Igesund explaining that his fitness was not quite up to the required level.
Bafana battled to create openings against Cape Verde, and now badly need the three points at the Moses Mabhida stadium, with Mphela the most likely solution to their woes in front of goal.
Mphela only returned to club football with Mamelodi Sundowns towards the end of the year, after battling back from a knee operation. But the 28-year-old remains the one true bright light in Bafana’s goalscoring malaise over the last few years, the country’s third highest goalscorer of all-time.
“I am okay,” said Mphela yesterday on his condition, just before Bafana trained at People’s Park, in the shadow of the giant soccer stadium.
“I have played a couple of friendlies, and the other day I got about 20 minutes (against Cape Verde). If I am picked and I start against Angola, I am more than ready and prepared to step up to the plate and try to get what we need – goals. We didn’t play well in the first game and we want to do well in the second game.”
Mphela believes the problem against Cape Verde, where they created maybe two decent openings, came because the players were “frozen” with nerves.
“I think we created enough chances in the two friendlies before (a 1-0 defeat to Norway and a 0-0 draw with Algeria), so I don’t think it is really an issue,” he said.
“The players were a bit frozen (against Cape Verde). I think against Angola we will create more chances.”
In truth, Bafana were also poor against Algeria, with another major issue the lack of fluidity coming from the centre of midfield. Kagiso Dikgacoi has looked completely out of sorts in Bafana’s last two games, substituted at half-time against Cape Verde.
Dean Furman, who was surprisingly left out for the Cape Verde game, is the man who is likely to replace the Crystal Palace midfielder against Palancas Negras.
Thulani Serero, however, looks likely to be on the bench once again, with the young Ajax Amsterdam attacking star acknowledging yesterday that he was still not quite up to full fitness.
Angola also need to come out looking for the three points against Bafana, after drawing their opening Group A match against Morocco, and Mphela expects a tough game.
“Their players are playing in the best leagues, they are strong,” said Mphela.”We saw against Morocco that they are fast, too. If we make mistakes, we will get punished.”
Bafana were rightly hammered for their awful display against Cape Verde, and Mphela admitted that it has been hard for the players to keep believing in the face of all the criticism.
“It is not an easy one, but we are trying to stay positive and lift our spirits,” said Mphela.
“The critics are always there, it is part of football. We need to go forward and qualify for the next round.”
The result of the game between Angola and Morocco has at least allowed Bafana to effectively start from square one. But that cannot hide the fact that a completely different side will have to show up against Angola than the one that even Mr Optimistic, Gordon Igesund, had to admit were poor against Cape Verde.
The rain began to lash down on Durban yesterday afternoon, just as it had on Bafana at the National Stadium on Saturday. Igesund’s men must hope this time the miserable weather is an African blessing, and not a perfect reflection of their own performance.