In Leone’s den

2010-10-10 10:50

An exhausting 11-hour flight, a taxing transfer via turbulent ferries, dinner that was served way after midnight as well as hot, humid ­weather conditions are some of the challenges that Bafana Bafana had to surmount ahead of the big test against Sierra Leone this ­afternoon.

Pitso Mosimane faces his biggest challenge as the Bafana coach against Sierra Leone in a tricky away 2012 Africa Nations Cup qualifier that was preceded by travel pitfalls.

Kick-off is 6.30pm SA time.

The South African Football Association (Safa) might have tried to limit the challenges that confront travelling sides on the continent by hiring a chartered flight to this West African country, but the Bafana players still had to endure an 11-hour flight that visibly took its toll on the players.

Bongani Khumalo, Siphiwe Tshabalala and many other players became restless as they tried to adapt to the challenges of refuelling in Namibia and the Sao Tome island before eventually landing in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, following an arduous journey that seemed to be never-ending.

And after landing in Freetown after 10pm on Friday, transferring to the ferries was another test of patience and the visibly fatigued players admitted that the trip had taxed them to the very limit.

Even Mosimane was not happy with the travel arrangements, particularly the long route they took, saying it was too tiring.

Dinner was served after midnight – an indication of the ­challenges that travelling nations face when they have to play away from home.

But Mosimane insisted that the tricky travel challenges should not be used by anyone to justify a negative result today as group ­rivals – Egypt and Niger – also faced the same pitfalls.

The travel nightmare added ­credence to former Bafana coach Carlos Parreira’s view that even his native Brazil would struggle to qualify for the World Cup and continental championships if they played in Africa.

Bafana may still be atop Group G but maintaining their stay at the summit will depend on what happens here and in the game between group rivals Egypt and ­Niger.

Mosimane has steadfastly maintained that he is here for a victory and nothing else, but added he would deploy a cautious approach.

“I know what to expect from them and we should be ready for their challenge but it won’t be easy for us as they will be buoyed by their supporters,” said ­Mosimane.

He said barring the forced change as a result of Steven Pienaar’s absence, he would stick with the same team that defeated Niger last month.

Teko Modise is tipped to replace the injured Everton midfielder.

Sierra Leone are not expected to be slouches at home and many of their supporters do not even want to contemplate the possibility of a defeat.

Many of them claim that the absence of Pienaar will be a loss that Mosimane cannot compensate for and that the home side has a very good chance of securing another victory over Bafana.

While Pienaar’s absence has been a major talking point among the English football followers here, they have not discounted the threat posed by Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Tshabalala.

The midfielder’s rasping strike against Mexico in the opening match of the World Cup – which was the first goal of the tournament – propelled him into global superstardom and the locals are all clamouring for a glimpse of the Chiefs midfielder.

The locals have given their guests the red-carpet treatment in a show of hospitality that belies the fact that this is after all a ­war-torn country.

Sierra Leone coach Christian Cole has been thumping his chest in a confident show of bravado that even the locals are starting to believe.

The omission of local pillar of strength Mohamed Kallon has hardly caused a stir here because they all have confidence that the 63-year-old coach has a winning formula.

They believe that in Mustapha Bangura, who scored against Egypt, they have a match winner who will torment Bafana the ­entire afternoon.

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