By Jonty Mark
As the storm clouds gathered over Johannesburg on Thursday, bringing some much-needed rainfall to this dusty land, they also provided a portent of what Bafana Bafana might expect in Freetown on Sunday afternoon.
In the Sierra Leone capital, the deluge is likely to come not just from the sky, with the country’s rainy season in full flow, but also on the field, as the Leone Stars look to inflict yet more humiliation on South Africa.
Just two years or so ago, Joel Santana’s South Africa were left battered and bruised, by a 1-0 defeat, a serious dent in their bid to qualify for Angola 2010. This time around, with the Leone Stars in an ebullient mood following their 1-1 draw in Cairo last month, Pitso Mosimane’s Bafana face the first stern test of their credentials, as they bid to qualify for Equatorial Guinea/Gabon 2012.
Mosimane was an assistant to Santana in June 2008, but is clearly keen to assert his own authority on the team now, and dismissed any suggestions of Bafana being on a revenge mission in Freetown.
“I wouldn’t like to mention revenge,” said Mosimane yesterday. “I would like to say this is my first time as head coach going there. I would not like to speak down about the Santana era, I will look after myself and my team and bring results.”
Mosimane does believe that Sierra Leone are a much improved side to a couple of years ago, as evidenced by their quite amazing result against the three-time reigning African champions in Cairo.
“I think they have a better team than before, they have increased their firepower,” he said.
“They have two strikers who never played against us. They gave Egypt a problem away.”
Mosimane was not sure of the names of the strikers to which he referred, but they are almost certainly Mohamed Bangura, of AIK Stockholm, and Mustapha Bangura, who plays for Cypriot side Apollon Limassol, and who put the Leone Stars into the lead against Egypt.
Bafana Bafana, mind you, are also much improved on a couple of years ago, and this squad have a vast amount of experience to take with them to Freetown.
“If you have World Cup and Confederations Cup experience, you should be able to deal with Sierra Leone,” said Mosimane.
“MacBeth Sibaya has been playing in the Champions League against Barcelona. If he can stand the heat in the Nou Camp, he can stand the heat in Freetown.”
On the back of three straight wins, two since he took over the reins, Mosimane said he will not tinker too much with his line-up, though one change is forced, following the injury to Steven Pienaar. Either Reneilwe Letsholonyane or Teko Modise are set to step into the breach.
“We have 21 players, so we should be able to replace Pienaar, we shouldn’t be complaining about it,” said the Bafana coach.
“We have been trying out a few things and I think I have made my decision, but I’ll probably reveal that the day before the match.”
Mosimane also revealed that Aaron Mokoena was back in full training, while Tshepo Masilela was also training with the side, despite a “niggling injury.”
If Bafana’s away record in Africa of late has been rather mixed, Mosimane carries with him a memory that he hopes can stand him in good stead for Sunday’s encounter.
Back in 2006, just before Carlos Alberto Parreira took over the job for the first time, and in the wake of Bafana’s atrocious performance at the 2006 Nations Cup under Ted Dumitru, Mosimane, along with Khabo Zondo, took a Bafana side to Zambia for a 2008 Nations Cup qualifier, and emerged with a hard-fought 1-0 win.
“The last time I went away to the Cup of Nations, we brought a win … I have that memory,” he said.
“That is what has stayed with me. I believe we can bring something (from Freetown). Why not? We are playing Sierra Leone, not Spain.” - The Star