Limping Bafana get set for lions’ den

2011-09-03 19:26

In stark contrast to the resounding Springbok rugby sendoff barely 24 hours before, OR Tambo International Airport was deserted when Bafana Bafana left for Niger on Friday.

The Green and Gold are off to defend their IRB Rugby World Cup title in New Zealand while the soccer team has a daunting second-leg task in Niamey in their quest to qualify for next year’s African Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.

Only a handful of Bafana supporters came to the airport to see the team leave for what is probably one of their stiffest tests.

Bafana’s previous two Afcon qualifiers against the Pharaohs of Egypt may have been Pitso Mosimane’s biggest test since he took over the reins last year, but in this afternoon’s game against Niger, he faces what is probably one of the toughest matches ever faced by a South African coach.

Niger has won its two matches at home against Egypt and Sierra Leone.

Mosimane takes a relatively inexperienced squad, depleted still further by injuries to the Orlando Pirates duo of Tlou Segolela and Moeneeb Josephs, to face a fast improving Niger side in their own backyard.

Striker Katlego Mphela, who got a knock at training this week, is also doubtful and will undergo a late fitness test.

Before boarding the Niger-bound plane on Friday, the Mamelodi Sundowns’ striker was less optimistic about his chances of playing.

Bafana were already without captain Steven Pienaar, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Reneilwe Letsholonyana and Davide Somma.

Added to that is the sweltering heat in the middle of the great Sahara desert where temperatures are likely to soar into the 40s.

But Mosimane was still confident of his first away victory.

He said he hoped his team would not suffer stage fright and freeze because of the anticipated hostile crowd at the stadium.

“The first 15 minutes will be crucial and we have to adapt quickly to the conditions to prevail. The players know how crucial it is and what to expect in this game,” said Mosimane.

He said Niger was not as highly tactical as Egypt and thus should not pose the same threat but cautioned against underestimating them.

“We know what to expect after watching videos of their last five matches. We need to use our World Cup experience to good effect and make sure we come back still on top of the group.”

He said the composition of his team was not a major concern as he has players who can do the job.

“This is not the time to moan about players who are not here but to use what we have. We will have 18 players who will represent us.”

Bafana are still to concede a goal in the qualifiers and victory over Niger will take them close to the finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

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