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Innocent Maela calls on Bafana Bafana to show a steely resolve against Morocco's Atlas Lions

Bafana Bafana defender Innocent Maela in action

FILE - Bafana Bafana defender Innocent Maela in action. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Published Jun 6, 2022

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Cape Town — Orlando Pirates defender Innocent Maela has called on his Bafana Bafana teammates to show a steely resolve against overwhelming favourites Morocco in Thursday's AFCON qualifier in Rabat.

The South African contingent headed by coach Hugo Broos arrived in Morocco on Sunday afternoon after a 21-hour journey from Johannesburg on Saturday evening. The eight-times SA capped Maela said that fortunately there are players in the national squad that have played in continental club competitions and have grown used to the rigours of long-distance travel.

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"The journey was difficult," said Maela in an interview with the South African Football Association's media officer.

"The travelling was a lot, but fortunately for us, we are experienced in playing continental football.

"The first flight was a 10-hour trip and then we had to connect and wait for another hour at the airport. After that, it was another trip lasting seven hours and 30 minutes to where we are, and then a bus ride.

"These things excite us, and they challenge us. It is what we want so that we can grow. We can prove to ourselves that we can go through and overcome these challenges."

During the initial flight from Johannesburg, Maela said the time passed rapidly because he was talking to his Witbank homeboy Percy Tau, who joined the national squad after playing for Al Ahly in last week's CAF Champions League final.

"We know it (the match) will be difficult for us (to win in Morocco)," said Maela. "We are up against quality opponents, and they are a very good team.

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"We know that we are more than capable of winning the match and getting a favourable result here.

"We just have to be united and strong as a team, and things will go well for us on Thursday."

Maela has returned to the national squad after he missed out on Bafana Bafana's games in March in Europe against Guinea and France because of a long-term injury.

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It is unlikely that Broos will include Maela in the run-on XI because he has sensed that Maela is playing with a fear of sustaining another injury.

“Maela is more fear," said Broos. "He had an operation last December. Now he felt something. He is afraid when he will go 100%.

"I think he will be ready for Thursday, so we have a little bit to be calm with him."

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Maela also expressed his fears of picking up an injury again. He said he joined the squad last week with a niggle and the team's medical staff have done a sterling job to help him manage the workload.

Were it not for these concerns Maela would have been a suitable replacement for Cape Town City's left-back Terrence Mashego who suffered freak on the eve of the team's departure for Morocco.

Broos has shown a preference for the 23-year-old Mashego and regards him as one of the promising young players he can use to build a national team for the future.

It is very likely that the 30-year-old Lyle Lakay, the Mamelodi Sundowns dead-ball specialist will be given the final nod. He played in the last international against France.

With all the talk that qualifying for AFCON will be a cakewalk because Bafana Bafana will only need to defeat lowly Liberia, Broos said the group matches still have to be played.

“Our group is a good mix of young and older players," said Broos. "I am happy with what Sundowns and Pirates did in the Champions League and Confederation Cup. It’s a higher level and they bring that experience into our team.”

“On Thursday, it is action. After 90 minutes, it is what it is. We must be ready from the first minute and fight for the 90.”

The match on Thursday against Morocco's Atlas Lions will be played at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat, Morocco (kick-off 9pm SA time) and will be broadcast on SABC.

@Herman_Gibbs

IOL Sport

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