DURBAN – Tuesday night’s Nelson Mandela Challenge match against Paraguay at the Moses Mabhida Stadium should provide coach Stuart Baxter with the chance to look at some of his fringe players.
South Africa will approach the match in Durban (7pm start) on the back of a 1-1 draw against Nigeria in a 2019 Afcon qualifier at the FNB Stadium last weekend.
It was a credible performance from the hosts, with several positives to come from the game.
Even though Nigeria had two legitimate goals ruled offside, the mighty west Africans were given a tough time by Bafana, and with a bit more bite in attack, the hosts could perhaps have snatched all three points.
As such, it a case of mixed emotions for Baxter after the game in Johannesburg.
“I’m disappointed a little bit and I’m proud a little bit. We’ve taken four points off the Super Eagles, and the only goal we’ve conceded so far in the tournament is an own goal,” Baxter said on Saturday.
“I’m disappointed that we weren’t braver. We said at halftime, we give them problems when we get through and get our movements (going), (when) we challenge them one on one.”
But while Baxter will be keen for his side to continue on the right track, Tuesday’s match against the South Americans will have little bearing on Bafana Bafana’s momentum, as their next (and final) qualifying match is still four months off – away to Libya next March.
With that in mind, and also considering that many of the Bafana contingent (those who are internationally based, as well as the Wits, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates players who are involved in the Telkom Knockout semi-finals this weekend), will be back in action for their clubs just a few days after the Mandela Challenge fixture, Baxter is expected to change up his starting XI considerably.
He will probably also make wholesale changes at halftime in Durban, which might take the edge off the competitiveness of the game.
But then again, with Paraguay coach Juan Carlos Osorio’s men having flown in from Europe and South America, he too will most likely be looking to give a run to as many of his 24-man squad as possible; such is the nature generally of ‘friendly’ internationals.
For South Africa, the likes of Innocent Maela, Vincent Pule, Motjeka Madisha, Lebohang Maboe, Teboho Mokoena, Darren Keet, Siyanda Xulu and Fortune Makaringe have been called up regularly to the national team of late without getting much game-time.
They’ll be hoping to showcase their qualities on Tuesday.
Indeed, Baxter has stated that he’ll be mindful of the players’ upcoming club commitments. “As far as the Paraguay game is concerned, it’s important that we’ve spoken about having a positive relationship with clubs,” he said.
“If I was a coach of one of those clubs, I wouldn’t want my players to play 90 minutes.
“I would expect the coach to have a bit of a feeling for South African football in general and say maybe this couple (of players) can play a half in one and a half in another, for example.
“We’ll approach (Tuesday’s game) with that in mind.”
With teams such as Mamelodi Sundowns, SuperSport United and Maritzburg United not playing this weekend, the likes of Madisha, Maboe, Mokoena, Xulu and Makaringe will, in particular, be hopeful of getting a decent run-out in KZN.
In terms of the opposition that Bafana Bafana will be up against, there won’t be many Paraguayans which the South African fans will recognise.
Nevertheless, Osorio has brought over a strong squad, comprising of players plying their trades in the top divisions of Spain, Italy, England, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, the United States and Paraguay.
Paraguay are currently ranked 31st in the world (Bafana are 73rd), although the last time they qualified for a World Cup was in 2010 in South Africa.
Their most recent win was in October 2017, a 2-1 victory over Colombia in a World Cup qualifier.
Since then they have participated in and lost three matches, a 0-1 defeat to Venezuela in a qualifier, and 0-1 and 2-4 losses against the United States and Japan in respective friendly games.
Bafana have won the last three Nelson Mandela Challenges: 1-0 against Egypt in 2016, 1-0 against Senegal in 2015, and 2-0 against the Ivory Coast in 2015.
There was no Nelson Mandela Challenge in 2017 as South Africa were busy with World Cup qualifiers; Instead, Mamelodi Sundowns played Barcelona in May this year, the La Liga side triumphing 3-1.
African News Agency (ANA)