NELSPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 08, Bafana players celebrates during the African Cup of Nations qualifier match between South Africa and Sierra Leone from Mbombela Stadium on October 08, 2011 in Nelspruit, South Africa Photo by Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images

Tired Bafana Bafana on Thursday trudge to Mbombela, a venue that has become synonymous with the decline which they will try to end when they face Gabon in Friday’s friendly international (8.30pm).

The last time South Africa played at Mbombela, in October last year, they left an embarrassing black mark after infamously celebrating a draw against Sierra Leone thinking it had secured progression to the Africa Cup of Nations finals.

It turned out they were wrong, and all that dancing, gyrating and hlokolozing, which made international headlines, was in vain after the Confederation of African Football’s rules placed Niger ahead of Bafana, ensuring yet another failure for the national side.

Bafana are in a far worse position this time, having seen Pitso Mosimane fired as coach and failing to win any match since the Mbombela Rule 14.1 debacle, including recent back-to-back World Cup qualifiers against lowly Ethiopia and Botswana.

Adding to their woes is the timing of Friday’s match: a worthless friendly at the end of a very long season that the players would, frankly, have preferred to do without, not least after spending close to four weeks in camp in Rustenburg while most of their peers are unwinding in holiday resorts.

Bafana defender Morgan Gould confessed that most of his teammates wore the “holiday” look as they reported to camp yet again at the beginning of the week, but promised they would give the Gabon friendly their all.

“You can see tiredness and holiday mode on the faces, but once we get on to the training pitch, all that changes. The players train with the same intensity. The bodies might look tired but the spirit we exude at training is positive. We don’t show any sign of tiredness when we are on that field. We feel we can give it one more push for victory,” Gould said.

He added he wasn’t feeling exhausted despite completing 180 minutes against Ethiopia and Botswana. “I don’t feel tired, but at this time of the year you need to forget that you should have been on holiday. You have to be professional. I do get calls from some of my friends who are on holiday but I promise myself I will get there after this camp. We were given a day off (on Sunday) so I got to see my family.”

This is the kind of determination interim coach Steve Komphela will require from his charges in his attempt to end nine months of decline, and Gould said the players were equally concerned about their barren spell which stretches nine months.

“It deeply saddens us as players,” the newly-signed Kaizer Chiefs defender said. “We try our utmost to win games but it doesn’t happen. We are not happy about this situation, but at the same time it’s not all doom and gloom because we are not conceding too many goals.”

Gould scored his first-ever international goal, in his 25th appearance for Bafana Bafana, in the 1-1 draw with Botswana last weekend. “It was a great feeling to score, it was long overdue. I set myself goals and scoring for the national team was one of them. I’m happy it happened, but then it was unfortunate that we conceded immediately thereafter.”

Gabon are likely to pose a stronger challenge than Ethiopia and Botswana, given that they are ranked 49th in the world by Fifa. But Gould described world rankings as an irrelevance.

“We have an uphill battle in front of us. Gabon are a good team but rankings in football mean nothing. Look at the Euro Championships… we have seen lowly-ranked teams causing upsets. It depends on what happens on the field, not on rankings,” he said. – The Star