Johannesburg - South African coach Gordon Igesund has embraced the challenge of facing Mali in the quarterfinals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Whoever Bafana Bafana faced, would be equally tough, he said on Tuesday.
The Eagles drew their final pool match against Democratic Republic of Congo 1-1 at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Monday to ensure their progress as Group B runners-up behind Ghana.
They would now face the hosts at the same venue on Saturday night.
“It’s obviously going to be tough at this stage of the competition, no matter who you’re playing,” Igesund told reporters on Tuesday.
“Mali are a very talented team, with very good players. They play a little bit differently from most of the teams we’ve played so far.
They like to slow things down, they like to knock the ball around, they are very comfortable on the ball.
“The important thing is we’re there now and are working on progressing from here.”
The west Africans have a rich pedigree in the continental showpiece, reaching the semifinals on five of the seven times they have reached the finals, including a third-place finish at the last competitions in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
“They’re all big boys, I looked at them last night and all 11 players are tall players,” the coach said.
“When we have the ball we’ll have to use it well. We’ll have to keep it on the ground, get behind them and put pressure on their defence.”
Igesund played down suggestions from Mali coach Patrice Carteron that South Africa would be the favourites.
“He’s trying to play a bit of mind-games by doing that,” Igesund said.
“There’s as much pressure on him as there is on me. They’re the third-ranked side in Africa and we’re number 85 in the world. Both sides will be under pressure to win.”
South Africa were back training on Tuesday morning after being given the day off on Monday.
“They deserved it and they’ve all come back this morning looking bright and good,” Igesund said.
He confirmed a clean bill of health ahead of the game, with striker Lehlohonolo Majoro returning to light training.
The Kaizer Chiefs striker, who missed the 2-2 group match against Morocco due to a deep cut and stitches on his shin, was running around the training field on his own, and expected to return to full training on Thursday.
Defender Anele Ngcongca would miss the match on Saturday due to his suspension. Igesund hinted that Siboniso Gaxa would likely feature in his absence.
“I believe he’s probably the right player to play in this game, even if Anele wasn’t out because of his ability to attack.”
Igesund added there was a strong sense that the hosts could continue their progress in the competition.
“I think this is all meant to be for us, it’s written down there that we’re going to go far in this competition.”