New chapter for battling Bafana

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Bafana Bafana in their final training session before departing for Botswana.

After a dramatic week during which they gave an unconvincing performance, had their coach fired and were bound with a new one, Bafana Bafana must banish months of misery in their second World Cup qualifier against Botswana here on Saturday (University Stadium, 3pm).

Bafana go into Saturday’s game with some added baggage following a change in the technical team which saw Pitso Mosimane being replaced by Steve Komphela, and only a victory over the Zebras would convince fed-up South Africans that the team’s recent poor run was indeed a direct result of poor coaching.

South Africa have not won a match for nine months, a wretched record which prompted the country’s football association bosses to sack Mosimane, and Safa would hope that they are vindicated in Saturday’s 2014 World Cup qualifier

Several players spoke of the traumatic experience of having to witness Mosimane bid them farewell in the wee hours of Tuesday, having been pushed out of his job after a stuttering start to Brazil 2014 with a tepid 1-1 draw against Ethiopia in Rustenburg.

A new chapter has to be opened on Saturday, and there’s little doubt Komphela realises he could make himself an instant hero. Should he start off with a win, he would be loved in the country and by the Safa hierarchy alike but, while any other result would mean he’s excused as he didn’t pick this team, failure could dent his ambitions of holding the position permanently one day.

It remained unclear during training this week whether Komphela would depart from his predecessor’s much-criticised tactics. While a total overhaul is not expected, the stand-in coach will have to make tweaks here and there to his XI to re-energise a team who looked absolutely lackadaisical in the opening stages of their draw with Ethiopia.

Komphela has to make one forced change, as Tsepo Masilela was released from camp due to a knee injury which will require surgery. Punch Masenamela, who did so well after replacing Masilela at Rustenburg, should slot in at leftback, but it is in midfield where Komphela has to be bold.

His predecessor committed the fatal error of picking Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Thanduyise Khuboni in the heart of midfield, and they seemed to struggle, unsurprisingly so given that each hardly enjoyed a good season at club level. In actual fact Bafana only started to play well once both central midfielders had been substituted. That should mean neither deserves to start tomorrow, and Komphela should consider Orlando Pirates’ Oupa Manyisa or Andile Jali alongside Teko Modise, the Sundowns man who so impressively changed the complexion of the match against Ethiopia. May Mahlangu may also get a look-in.

Good news for Bafana is that they are not the only team in “turmoil”, as Komphela put it this week. Their hosts are probably in a far worse situation, having lost their opening match away to the Central African Republic. Botswana have also been beset by internal strife, with senior players such as Mogogi Gabonamong, of SuperSport United, withdrawing from the squad apparently due to unpaid bonuses dating back to last year.

The Zebras also have a terrible record against their neighbours, which reads: P6 W0 D2 L4. Botswana have only celebrated a penalty-shootout “victory” over Bafana in 2006 during the Cosafa Cup. Ironically, Komphela and Mosimane were in charge as joint coaches for that match, and now Komphela has returned on his own in a fixture that could boost his profile if he wins. Botswana’s poor record against SA and internal troubles did not stop locals from promising Bafana a hiding in the serene streets of Gaborone on Thursday. The South Africans departed the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace by coach on Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Komphela has confirmed that forward Thulani Serero will not be available for the match after suffering a groin strain in training on Friday, Sapa reported.

“I still need to get proper feedback," Komphela said. "I have not met with a doctor, but what I do know is it's a problem with the groin.”

The coach, however, said all the other players in the squad were fit and ready for the match.

Earlier, Bafana began their final preparations ahead the match with a training session.

Bafana arrived in Botswana on Thursday afternoon, with a number of interested local spectators in the stands.

The team went through their training routine in clear and warm conditions. – The Star/Sapa


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