Bafana face true test of skill

2009-03-30 00:00

AFTER a confidence-boosting victory over Norway in Rustenburg, a clearer indication of Bafana Bafana’s strength on the international stage will be gauged in the friendly against 2006 World Cup semi-finalists Portugal in Lausanne, Switzerland tonight.

South Africa stamped their authority on defence-minded Norway at Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Saturday and earned a 2-1 victory through Siphiwe Tshabalala’s superb 92nd-minute long-range strike. The result was a timely morale-booster ahead of the June 14 kick-off of the Confederations Cup.

Norway have a strong pedigree in international football, but their position at the bottom of their 2010 World Cup qualifying group indicates they are off their best form. In Rustenburg, the South Africans also adapted better to the searing heat.

Portugal, too, are not at their best and a goalless home draw to Sweden has left them in third place in Europe’s Group One and in danger of not qualifying for 2010.

But they remain a top-quality side, even if coach Carlos Queiroz opts to rest key players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Chelsea stars Ricardo Carvalho and Deco. In the crisper climes of tonight’s neutral venue on the banks of Lake Geneva, this will be the sort of opportunity Bafana so desperately need to build more of the “international personality” coach Joel Santana spoke of after the Norway game.

“I am very excited about Portugal,” said Santana on Saturday. “It wasn’t just that we won against Norway — we also played well.”

The Brazilian seems likely to start with a similar line-up to the one that did duty against the Scandinavians, though he might give a starting run to Orlando Pirates striker Katlego Mashego alongside Bernard Parker, in place of Mabhuti Khenyeza.

Parker has scored five goals in his first 10 internationals in an impressive start to his Bafana career. It is to the tigerish little Red Star Belgrade striker to whom the task will fall of filling Benni McCarthy’s shoes in the build-up to 2010, now that the Blackburn striker has again shot his international career in the foot.

In Queiroz, Bafana will come up against an old friend — the former Manchester United assistant coach was at the helm of South Africa from 2000 to 2002.

The Portuguese, who took the reigns of his national team in July last year for his second spell, has plenty of depth at his disposal in the form of Atletico Madrid midfielder Maniche, Juventus’s Tiago, and Atletico striker Simao, Portugal’s most prolific scorer in the last year.

But after Saturday’s 0-0 draw in Oporto, Queiroz has indicated he wants his side to score more goals and might see tonight’s friendly as a good opportunity for his top players to get their scoring confidence back.

Bafana’s defence appeared much improved against Norway, but tonight captain Aaron Mokoena and company will be tested by some truly skilful craftsmen. South Africa will consider a draw, or even a defeat playing well, another step towards their goal of building a competitive team for the Confed Cup and World Cup.

Kick-off: 9.45 pm — live on SABC1 from 9.30 pm

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