By Herman Gibbs, Eshlin Vedan, and Smiso Msomi
Cape Town — Bafana Bafana open their Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign with a tough clash against continental powerhouses Morocco on Thursday.
IOL football writers Herman R Gibbs, Eshlin Vedan and Smiso Msomi weigh in on the debate head of the AFCON Group K pipe-opener in the Moroccan capital Rabat.
Bafana young'uns braced to beard the Atlas Lions in their Rabat den, says HERMAN GIBBS.
The youthful untried Bafana Bafana line-up will open their AFCON Group K qualifying programme against a seasoned Morocco outfit on Thursday at the multi-purpose Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat, Morocco.
The South Africans have been hamstrung in their preparations since they failed to secure a warm-up match while their opponents had a hit-out against the 15th world-ranked US side in Cincinnati a week ago. The match ended in a 3-0 defeat for Morocco (world-ranked 23) but their coach Vahid Halilhodžić felt it was a worthwhile exercise.
After the match, he said: "We need to learn from this defeat and prepare well for the World Cup. I’m confident that we can do better in Qatar.”
It would appear that although South Africa was Morocco's next opponent, Halilhodžić was not too bothered about upcoming Group K assignments. Instead, he was thinking of the World Cup.
SA coach Hugo Broos had similar thoughts when Bafana Bafana (69) was hammered 5-0 by France (3) who fielded several world-class players and who are likely to capture the imagination at the upcoming World Cup.
The SA team has drawn most of its players from the domestic league and a handful of overseas-based players have made headlines. In stark contrast, Morocco's 27-man squad, except for two players, are all Europe-based. The players are goalkeeper Anas Zniti (Raja Casablanca) and defender Yahia Attiyat Allah (Wydad Casablanca).
Such is the quality of the squad that only one player from the CAF Champions League title-holder can make the cut for the country's national team.
Broos knows what he is up against, and he is confident that his team will be worthy opponents for the North Africans. He knows what it takes to win AFCON since he guided Cameroon to continental glory in 2017.
In recent months the Moroccan side has not tasted defeat in continental competitions. They completed six World Cup qualifying matches undefeated and then drew and won in the two-leg final round of qualifying.
Bafana must aim to exploit Morocco's weaknesses and frustrate them, says ESHLIN VEDAN
The reality is that Morocco will be the heavy favourites to win this game. Bafana Bafana should ideally play a high defensive line in order to contain the threat of Achraf Hakimi and Youssef En-Nesyri in particular.
A point in this game will be a good morale-booster for Hugo Broos’ men and provide them with confidence, especially considering that they will be playing in a difficult North African environment.
However, it must be added that two out of Morocco’s last three games suggest that chemistry may be lacking somewhat in their team. They were thrashed 3-0 by the United States in their last game and fired blanks in front of goal as just 8 out of their 22 shots at goal against the Americans were on target.
Historically, Bafana Bafana boast a good record against Morocco and must aim to frustrate them in the way that the Americans did. Morocco was also held to a 1-1 draw by the DRC in their World Cup qualification final round first leg in March.
That result can give Bafana inspiration as DR Congo are ranked 67 with a similarly matched squad to Bafana when it comes to quality on the pitch.
Bafana Bafana's core have a huge role to play, says SMISO MSOMI
Bafana Bafana received a welcomed boost with the return of captain and goalkeeper Ronwen Williams just in time for undoubtedly their most difficult match in this entire qualification stage. His experience and leadership will contribute immensely in a hostile North African environment.
Coach Hugo Broos will, for the first time since his appointment, lead a side without the know-how of the much-travelled Siyanda Xulu and the expertise of one of the best defenders in the country in Rushine De Reuck.
While Xulu was deemed unfit by Broos, De Reuck has been sidelined through injury, a huge blow for a side needing an away performance with the right personalities coming to the fore. The untried and untested trio of Grant Kekana,Thibang Phete and Tariq will be thrown into the deep-end and expected to swim.
Coach Broos has made it no secret that he identifies specific features in the ideal make up of his ideal midfield general and the selection of Phathutshedzo Nange fits that description. He alongside 'big boys' Goodman Mosele or Sphelele Sithole will have to be at their best against a hardman in Sofyan Amrabat and the trickery of Adel Taarabt.