RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 28, Steven Pienaar during the South African National soccer team gym session and press conference from the Royal Marang Sports Complex on May 28, 2012 in Rustenburg, South Africa Photo by Lee Warren / Gallo Images

Cape Town - While Bafana Bafana prepare for a daunting international friendly against five-times world champions Brazil at the Estadio Morumbi in Sao Paulo on Friday (kick-off 8.45pm), SA sports minister Fikile Mbalula has already begun talking up coach Gordon Igesund’s squad ahead of next year’s African Cup of Nations, which will be held in South Africa.

Over in Brazil, Igesund has been counting mounting injuries to his more seasoned players, including Steven Pienaar, Siyabonga Nomvethe and Anele Ngcongca.

Already, the first-ever squad named by the new Bafana coach is an inexperienced-looking one, and now it looks as if he may be forced to give some novices a serious baptism of fire. For example, 18 year-old left-back Kgosi Nthle will not have come up against the likes of Neymar and Hulk while playing for Peterborough in the English Championship.

Still, Bafana Bafana can at least go into this game with nothing to lose, whatever the result.

Meanwhile, Mbalula believes nothing should stop Bafana from winning next year’s Nations Cup on home soil. The minister urged Bafana, who last qualified for the Nations Cup finals in 2008, not to “embarrass” the nation when this country hosts the continental championships from January 19 to February 10.

“I would say we should avoid embarrassment. But there’s nothing stopping us from aiming even higher. We should always strive for excellence,” Mbalula said.

The SA Football Association have set new coach Igesund a semi-final target next year or risk losing his job.

Mbalula welcomed the hiring of Igesund, but pleaded with South Africans to “give him space” to implement his philosophy.

“I have listened to Gordon. He has said the national team is not a training ground. He sounds like he’s got the right model which we need to follow. If Gordon gets the basics right, we will surprise a lot of people at the Nations Cup.

“We just need to allow him to do his job. If a coach is ever going to be guided by the public, we will never have a national team. He must stick to what he believes in. Let the coach do the job he’s employed to do.”

Cape Argus