Durban – As if in anticipation of the quarter-final cauldron that awaits Bafana Bafana and Mali in the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday night, the temperature noticeably rose a few degrees in Durban.
Sweat poured from brows all around People’s Park, whether they were training or not, and whether they were feeling the pressure of an Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final or not. It promises to be a sweltering night in the Zulu kingdom on Saturday, in front of another sell-out Durban crowd, as Bafana continue their pursuit of continental glory. Gordon Igesund’s men will need to keep cool heads in a tough battle against the physically imposing West Africans. If you look at the teams remaining in the last eight, in fact, this Nations Cup has become exactly that – Bafana Bafana v West Africa.
There weren’t much cooler heads around in Bafana’s game against Angola, the one that got their campaign up and running, than Lehlohonolo Majoro. His cheeky finish through the legs of the Palancas Negras goalkeeper remains the only goal of this tournament that a Bafana striker has managed to net.
Majoro followed his goal with a deep gash in his calf that threatened to rule him out of the competition. But he resumed full training with the Bafana squad, and is expecting to be ready to go, if Igesund needs him on Saturday night.
“I have recovered from the injury,” said Majoro.
“I still have some tests to go to be declared 100 per cent fit for the game … but as far as I know I am fit. Obviously I am excited to be back. I thought I would never play again in this tournament, so to be back shows my healing process is quicker than I thought!” he exclaimed.
The Bafana coach faces an interesting dilemma in deciding whether to go with Majoro or Katlego Mphela to lead his line of attack. Majoro failed to impress in the opening match against Cape Verde, but came storming back when given his chance from the bench against Angola. Mphela gave perhaps the most battling display of his Bafana career against Angola, but was muscled out of the game by Morocco last weekend.
Mphela carries the experience, Bafana’s third highest goalscorer of all time, with an impressive goal-per-game ratio, even in the wake of his drought at this tournament.
Majoro, however, could provide a bit more of an unknown quantity, and has the confidence of a man who has already fired at the Moses Mabhida. “It is always good for a striker to score goals,” said Majoro.
“The more you score, the more you gain confidence. For me to score that goal (against Angola) really boosted my confidence. Also, to see my teammates performing the way they have, it shows we have a good competitive squad, no one is guaranteed a position so I have to come back and fight. Whoever starts against Mali, I have full confidence that he will do his best.”
Majoro, meanwhile, played down the fact that no other striker had scored for Bafana, preaching the team ethic over all. “It is a team effort so defenders can score too! We also help them to defend! There is no such thing as individual glory.”
Gordon Igesund has this side working for each other, perfectly illustrated in their spirit shown as they fought back twice to draw with Morocco. Igesund trained the side yesterday watched by his proud father, the 84-year-old Gordon Igesund Snr. – The Star
BAFANA KEY MATCH-UPS
Mahamadou Samassa v Itumeleng Khune
Italy-based Samassa got his first start against Democratic Republic of Congo and repaid the faith put in him with a clinical early equaliser. He will have to be even sharper, though, to beat outstanding shot-stopper Khune.
Seydou Keita v Dean Furman
At first glance this is an unequal contest with the left boot of former Barcelona midfielder Keita oozing class, but Furman from English third-tier outfit Oldham is a tireless warrior who usually makes his presence felt.
Adama Tamboura v Katlego Mphela
Injury-plagued striker Mphela is overdue a goal and that spells danger for Tamboura, voted one of the best defenders at the 2012
Cup of Nations and an ever-present in the group stage this year. – Sapa-AFP
From 9am: Masabalala Yengwa (NMR) Avenue will be closed from Sandile Thusi (Argyle) Road up to Smiso Nkwanyana (Goble) Road; Battery Beach Road will be closed from Suncoast Boulevard to Masabalala Yengwa Avenue; Isaiah Ntshangase (Walter Gilbert) Road will also be closed between Umgeni Road and the M4. Access from the M4 will only be permitted up to the Durban Country Club.
From 4pm: Somtseu Road will be closed from Stalwart Simelane (Stanger) Street to Masabalala Yengwa Avenue; Masabalala Yengwa Avenue will be closed from Sandile Thusi Road to KE Masinga (Old Fort) Road.
However, some lanes will be open for vehicles travelling to and from Durban Station.