Bafana into Lions' den

2008-11-18 00:00

JOHANNESBURG – Bafana Bafana will aim to roll back the years when they tackle Cameroon in the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge at Olympia Park in Rustenburg tonight.

It was on July 7, 1992, when South Africa kicked their first ball in international soccer after readmission to world body Fifa, and, thanks to an 82nd-minute Doctor Khumalo penalty, defeated Cameroon 1-0 at a packed King’s Park Rugby Stadium.

That was a glorious night and although the Indomitable Lions brought a second-string side to play in a three-match series to introduce South Africa back to world soccer, it was literally what the doctor ordered for the fledgling South Africans.

That series was shared, each team winning once and the other game ending in a 2-2 draw. But South Africa had arrived on the world stage by holding Cameroon, who had two years earlier reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

Bafana also scored one of their best wins ever when they thumped Cameroon 3-0 in the opening match of the 1996 African Nations Cup finals and went on to lift the trophy on home soil.

But times have changed and South Africa have slumped to an all-time low in 2008. Cameroon are ranked 14th in the world with Bafana at 80th. SA badly need to make amends for failing to qualify for the 2010 Afcon finals in Angola, and a win over star-studded Cameroon would build confidence for next June’s Confederations Cup.

Bafana are on a three-match winning streak, having beaten a second-string Malawi 3-0 in Germiston, scored a hard-fought 1-0 away win in Equatorial Guinea to salvage some pride from a disastrous Afcon qualifying campaign last month, and then beat an emerging Ghana 2-0 in Bloemfontein.

But under-fire national team coach Joel Santana knows this game will give him a clearer indication of whether he is making progress.

Cameroon have brought a strong squad that includes Barcelona superstar Samuel Eto’o, fellow Spanish-based striker Archille Webo, veteran skipper Rigobert Song, Newcastle United defender Geremi, French-based midfielders Jean Makoun and Modest Mbami and Spain-based midfielders Daniel Ngom Kome and Frank Songo’o.

Santana said: “This is the real test for us. Cameroon [are] a top-class side. This is the sort of opposition we need to prepare for June’s Confederation Cup and for the [2010].”

Bafana, too, are near full strength, with Benni McCarthy deciding to play the friendly after he buried his father in Cape Town on Saturday. McCarthy — Bafana’s best player at present — will lift those around him. — Sapa.

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