The urge to qualify for their last World Cup should spur on Bafana Bafana to victory over the Central African Republic this evening, national coach Gordon Igesund said yesterday.
A win in tonight’s Group A encounter here is imperative if several members of the South African national side who are already approaching 30 are to play in a World Cup for which they qualified.
Should they miss out on next year’s finals in Brazil, there’s no doubt men such as Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Kagisho Dikgacoi and Morgan Gould would not get another opportunity as they would probably have retired by the time the 2018 tournament takes place in Russia.
“There are many players in this team for whom this represents a final chance to qualify for the World Cup,” Igesund said after concluding Bafana’s final training session here yesterday.
“In order for that to happen, this (tonight’s match) is an absolute must-win for us. We can’t fail here. If we draw, we’ll be forced to go to the CAR and Ethiopia and win, and it won’t be easy. We have to put the other teams in the group under pressure.”
Bafana need to win to go top of Group A, although their situation could change depending on the result between Ethiopia and Botswana, who clash in Addis Ababa tomor- row.
Igesund believes his men are capable of winning what would be their first World Cup qualifier since 2005, in spite of facing a CAR side ranked eight places above them by Fifa.
“We want to continue from where we left off in the Africa Cup of Nations. We played really well, especially against Morocco and Mali,” he said.
Igesund’s starting XI will have changed drastically tonight, so there’s no chance of continuity on that front.
He has to field an entirely different back four from the side that lost to Mali on penalties in a Cup of Nations quarter-final, with Siboniso Gaxa, Bongani Khumalo (dropped), Siyabonga Sangweni and Tsepo Masilela (injured) all unavailable.
Igesund is expected to field Anele Ngcongca, who was suspended for the Mali game, Gould, Thabo Nthethe and Thabo Matlaba, which should be a challenge for Itumeleng Khune, who will captain the side this evening.
“It won’t be a problem,” goalkeeper Khune said when asked if he had spent this week familiarising himself with a completely new rearguard.
“We are all professionals and I’ve played with some of these guys for a long time. Experience should count a lot, but communication will be key.”
The presence of Ngcongca and Gould should provide Bafana with some assurance, but Matlaba and Nthethe will have a lot to prove tonight, if selected as widely expected.
Igesund’s final session, in overcast but warm conditions at Athlone Stadium, was behind closed doors, but there’s little doubt he was working on how to break down the rigid CAR defence.
“They (CAR) will be very competitive,” said Igesund, who highlighted the central Africans’ shock win over Egypt last winter as an example.
“In that game, they twice came from behind, had a man sent off but still managed to win 3-2.”
That result notwithstanding, the CAR still have a wretched away record, having recently lost to the likes of Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea and more relevantly, Ethiopia in their Group A qualifier last June.
Bafana should back themselves to come away with three points, although against a physically strong side who no doubt will be looking for a draw, they will have to be sharper in front of goal.
“We can score goals,” Igesund contended.
“This side that supposedly can’t score produced five goals in three matches in our Nations Cup group. We were the top scorers in that group.”
Such confidence is precisely what will be required tonight. – Saturday Star