Gordon Igesund wants Bafana to box clever in their crucial African Nations Championship Group A clash against Mali. Photo by Grant Pitcher

While Bafana Bafana are preparing themselves for a slugfest against Mali today, coach Gordon Igesund wants his team to box clever in their crucial African Nations Championship Group A clash at Cape Town Stadium today (kick-off 5pm).

Mali bring lots of height and physicality to the table, and they showed their power in their 2-1 win over Nigeria on Saturday.

Igesund admitted yesterday that his charges will come off second-best if they go toe-to-toe with the West Africans in a physical battle. And that is why the silver-haired coach wants his charges to follow a simple recipe that served boxing great Muhammad Ali so well during his prime – float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

“We are playing against a very good team, a physical team. They are a big team as far as height is concerned, and we have been working hard to keep the ball, make quick passes, and taking only one or two touches if we can,” Igesund told reporters on a sweltering day in the Mother City ahead of his team’s last training session before the Mali clash.

“You don’t want to get into a tussle with this team because we are going to come off second-best. They are stronger than us as far as physicality is concerned. So we need to be clever and use the ball well. I want to be more penetrative than we were in the first game, and we want to get in behind them.”

Bafana weren’t tested physically in their first match of the tournament against Mozambique. The South Africans had it basically their own way against the Mambas, dominating possession and taking advantage of some charitable passing by their opponents in the middle of the park.

Mali will be a completely different beast, and are dangerous on the counter and from set-pieces. They are also going to be a lot more organised than Mozambique and will not give the ball away in midfield.

“We are going to approach this game a little bit differently. I think we set out to be very offensive against Mozambique,” Igesund said. “But there were situations in the middle of the park where we lost the ball. And you can’t do this against this team. They are organised and when they get opportunities, they will put it away. We will have to be very streetwise tomorrow.”

Igesund says he is contemplating making a few changes after the 3-1 win in the tournament opener. It seems the coach wants to stretch Mali and attack down the flanks with lots of pace and width.

Mamelodi Sundowns left-back Tebogo Langerman is set to replace rookie Thato Mokeke to give the team a little more thrust down the left flank. Mokeke was excellent against Mozambique, but Langerman definitely offers a lot more overlapping ability.

Platinum Stars attacking midfielder Lindokuhle Mbatha may also get the nod after a sprightly cameo in the second half against Mozambique. He may replace veteran Lerato Chabangu, who was not quite at his best against the Mambas.

“I am contemplating making one or two changes in some areas. It’s a totally different game and I want to have a bit more pace going forward,” Igesund said.

“I want to get behind them and there were a couple of players who did well when they came on. Whatever changes I make will be tactical changes. Thato is only 20 years old, and I think he did a very good job. He will come on and I think he used the ball well. But I would like to see him get forward a little bit more,” he added.

Victory over Mali, who beat Bafana on penalties in the quarter-finals of last year’s Africa Cup of Nations, will almost certainly secure the hosts a quarter-final berth.

Nigeria and Mozambique clash in the late match of tonight’s double-header, with the loser destined for an early exit.

Bafana take on Nigeria on Sunday afternoon, and it was billed as the showpiece fixture of the group stage. But today’s clash against Mali could be South Africa’s defining match in this tournament.

“Of course we want to be in a comfortable position after this game (against Mali), because there is a strong possibility that there will be three teams locked on six points at the end of the group stage, and we don’t want that situation,” Igesund said.

“Obviously we can’t worry about what other teams are doing, and we can only worry about ourselves and what we can control. If we beat Mali, then there is a strong chance that we have qualified, and then try to finish on top of the log against Nigeria.

“But we can’t get ahead of ourselves, we take each game as it comes. We finished our game against Mozambique and our focus is on Mali.” - The Star