Bafana brave group of death

2014-12-28 16:00

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The 23 players Shakes Mashaba names in his 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) squad on Tuesday must not be intimidated by the fact that Bafana Bafana are the lowest-ranked side in their group.

This was Safa president Danny Jordaan’s message ahead of the final Afcon squad announcement.

Bafana, ranked number 12 on the continent, will be pitted against Africa’s strongest team, Algeria, and West African powerhouses Senegal (4) and Ghana (5) in Group C.

Jordaan said that the team’s qualification for the continental showpiece had come sooner than expected and was a good foundation to build on.

“What Mashaba has done is proof that you can build while being competitive at the same time,” he said.

Mashaba defied the odds and silenced his critics by picking a team of novices that remained undefeated in a tricky qualification group that featured defending champions Nigeria.

The Super Eagles will not be in Equatorial Guinea next month to defend their title, thanks largely to Mashaba’s charges, who held them to two draws.

The 34 players assembled in Joburg last night, and will go for medicals in Tshwane today and have training sessions tomorrow and on Tuesday morning before the coach announces his final squad.

Mashaba’s announcement of the provisional squad two weeks ago set tongues wagging.

Many were baffled by the absence of certain players, including Kaizer Chiefs in-form captain Tefu Mashamaite and the red-hot Orlando Pirates strike duo of Kermit Erasmus and Lehlohonolo Majoro.

Speculation in the media also went into overdrive about which 11 players were to get the chop.

Names such as Jackson Mabogoane, the Mpumalanga Black Aces goalkeeper; defenders Patrick Phungwayo, Ntsikelelo Nyauza and Thabo Matlaba (all Orlando Pirates); and Mamelodi Sundowns’ Mzikayise Mashaba (no relation to the coach as he is wont to point out) were bandied about as possible candidates for the drop.

Other names mentioned were those of midfielders Asavela Mbekile, Themba Zwane (both Sundowns), Vuyisile Wana (Moroka Swallows), Jabulani Shongwe (Bidvest Wits), Mondli Cele (Maritzburg United) and SuperSport United’s Thuso Phala.

The feeling among the pundits was that Mashaba might be tempted to pick all five strikers – Ayanda Patosi, Bernard Parker, David Zulu, Tokelo Rantie and Bongani Ndulula – he had named in his initial team.

The thinking that Mashaba would take these marksmen to Equatorial Guinea was driven by the lack of depth in this department in South African football and the fact that Rantie, who chipped in with crucial goals during the qualifiers, was carrying an injury.

Jordaan encouraged those players not selected for the final Afcon squad not to lose heart as the long-term strategic aim was to be able to field at least two strong Bafana Bafana teams at any given time.

Besides the African tournament and the 2018 World Cup qualifiers that start late next year, Safa will organise more competitive matches “against the world’s top teams”.

Bafana were very impressive in the qualifying stage, but the big question now is: Can they emulate the Class of ’96 by winning the tournament and go a step further by annexing the trophy on foreign soil?

The answer will emerge at the conclusion of the tournament, which is set to run from January 17 to February 8.

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