Teko Modise tends to stride a lonesome walk through the Bafana Bafana camp, his fancy, giant headphones attached like ears to his head. From this world of his own, to training and the heat of the battle, the midfielder has been a fairly consistent part of the Bafana camp for over five years now.
At times, there are those that have questioned the merit of selection of a man who for all his talent, has failed to truly fire at a major tournament, the 2010 Fifa World Cup passing him by like a startled passenger in a whirlwind. Still, his gifts that persuaded Carlos Alberto Parreira he was the man to build a team around remain, while current coach Pitso Mosimane has also shown abundant faith in the Sundowns midifelder.
Modise is no longer a guaranteed starter, with Steven Pienaar and Siphiwe Tshabalala likely to be the midfield wide men in Sunday’s opening 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifier against Ethiopia (Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace, 3pm). But his form at Sundowns this season, rejuvenated by Johan Neeskens, is enough to stem hope that he might still play a significant role as Bafana attempt to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since the 2008 African Nations Cup.
Bafana’s main problem in a pathetic few years is that they have simply dried up like an old prune in front of goal. Just four goals were scored in their 2012 African Nations Cup qualifying campaign, and while the strikers can shoulder some of the blame, as one of the more creative midfelders in the national team, Modise must surely carry his own burden too. The 29-year-old was one of the men who came closer than most, striking a post in the shambolic defeat to Niger in Niamey, but now he, like Bafana, needs to turn near misses into glory. Modise is hopeful that the addition of Siyabonga Nomvethe to the Bafana squad can help resolve some scoring issues.
The 34-year-old, coming off the back of 20 goals in the Absa Premiership this season, is likely to partner Katlego Mphela up front on Sunday. Mosimane has played two strikers up front throughout his Bafana career, countered by the fact that one, Bernard Parker for example, has tended to play a deeper-lying role, behind Mphela.
The use of Nomvethe, however, might just mean a more aggressive approach from the Bafana coach. “I think we are going into this game with a different system, because “Bhele” and “Killer” are two natural goalscorers,” said Modise. “To create for such players is easy, because they are the kind of players that enjoy scoring goals.
“We must create as many chances as we can. “Schillo” (Steven Pienaar) has created so many goals for Bafana, I can’t see him not doing it on the weekend.”
Ethiopia do not exactly come as a tornado of world footballing prowess, Bafana’s opponents ranked 138th in the world. Striker Tefera Fikru, formerly of Orlando Pirates and SuperSport United, is certainly their best known player in South Africa, though he was hardly prolific in his days in the Premier Soccer League. Bafana have, however, been watching some videos of the East African side in action, and Modise warned that their attacking pace would be their main threat on Sunday.
“We were watching the clips of Ethiopia last night, they have very pacy players up front and we have been trying to do our training based on that,” he said. “They are (also) comfortable on the ball and that is what we are trying to do, work on those movements, to press them and get the ball and counter attack. The main thing is to score goals, we want to win on the weekend.
“Their captain (Degu Debebe) is a good player, their two strikers are very fast, and their style of play is to get the ball quickly behind the defenders.”
Bafana were practising counter-attacking football in training this week, specifically breaking from opposition corner kicks. Yet if Ethiopia follow the pattern of many less-favoured African sides that come here, they could also simply sit back and ask Bafana to break them down.
This is not an ability Bafana have proved overly proficient at in recent times, and we will see on Sunday if they are ready to break the trend. “I want to win, we want to win and with the support we are going to get (in Phokeng) we must make it worth what the supporters have paid for,” said Modise. – The Star