Cape Town – The pressure is on.
Everybody knows it. Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund has admitted it, his players are feeling the heat, and Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi has wasted no time in ratcheting up the strain and tension felt by the home team.
The current scenario is a result of the SA national football squad’s failure to defeat Mali at the Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday. The teams played out a 1-1 draw.
And, with Nigeria defeating Mozambique 4-2, there’s everything to play for in Group A of the African Nations Championship (Chan).
Bafana and Mali have four points, with Nigeria on three.
On Sunday, in the final group fixtures, as the countries battle to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament, Bafana take on Nigeria at the Cape Town Stadium (7pm), while Mali face pointless Mozambique at Athlone Stadium (7pm).
Needless to say, Mali have the easier route, and a win will assure them of progress to the next phase.
But here’s where it gets a little difficult for Bafana, Nigeria are still right in it.
If Keshi’s men win, they will go through to the next stage, leaving Igesund and South African football red-faced.
Chan is restricted to the selection of locally-based players only – no overseas-based stars are allowed. Because of the ostensible strength of the local Premier Soccer League, and with Igesund having access to quite a strong squad, a place in the final of the tournament should, at the least, be the minimum requirement for Bafana.
But, as things stand, that is in danger and they could bomb out at the first hurdle.
Igesund’s team needs just a draw to qualify for the knockout stages – but, against a motivated and determined Nigeria, they will have to be at their best. Igesund agreed: “The results of Wednesday’s games have put everybody in the group under pressure. It’s very close. This is a tough group.
“But we will continue to believe and go into the game against Nigeria with confidence. We may need only a draw, but we will be going for the win, that is the way we have approached every game.”
Keshi, meanwhile, who led Nigeria to victory at the 2013 African Nations Cup, maintains supreme faith in his local squad.
He may not have at his disposal the big overseas-based names who form the core of the African champions, but they certainly don’t lack for talent and ability in this competition.
“We started slowly, but the players are getting into it quickly,” said Keshi. “I work a lot on the mental aspect, as well as tactical and positional play, and they are now starting to understand the system.”
Nigeria’s opening loss to Mali was a good wake-up call. It served to clear the cobwebs of the players, who are now ready to give their all against Bafana.
Keshi respects the vast international experience Igesund is able to call on in his squad, something which Nigeria do not have in this event.
But, nevertheless, as Keshi says: “It is important that we are focused. Our concentration levels need to be high to deal with the threat from the South Africans.”
GROUP A LOG
P W D L GF GA Pts
South Africa 2 1 1 0 4 2 4
Mali 2 1 1 0 3 2 4
Nigeria 2 1 0 1 5 4 3
Moz’bique 2 0 0 2 3 7 0
GROUP A PERMUTATIONS
* If Bafana beat Nigeria and Mali beat Mozambique, Bafana will finish first in the group and progress to the quarter-finals with second-placed Mali.
* If Bafana draw against Nigeria and Mali draw against Mozambique, Bafana will still top the group and progress to the quarter-finals with Mali.
* If Bafana draw and Mali beat Mozambique, Mali will finish on top of the group with Bafana in second spot.
* If Bafana lose to Nigeria and Mali beat Mozambique, Mali and Nigeria will qualify for the quarter-finals in first and second place respectively.
* If Nigeria beat Bafana and Mali draw with Mozambique, Nigeria will qualify for the quarter-finals as group leaders and Mali will finish second.