Bafana ready for the world

2009-06-27 00:00

BAFANA Bafana have shown in the Confederations Cup, and especially their last-gasp 1-0 defeat to Brazil in the semi-final at Ellis Park on Thursday, that they will not be there just to make up the numbers as hosts of the 2010 World Cup.

South Africa swamped Brazil in the midfield and a wall of green snuffed out the attacks of dangerous forwards Kaka, Ramires, Robinho and Luis Fabiano. With the Brazilians frustrated, it took an 88th-minute free-kick from substitute Daniel Alves to take the South Americans through to tomorrow night’s final against the U.S..

Bafana will take on Spain, shock 2-0 losers to America in Wednesday’s semi-final, for third and fourth place at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg tomorrow afternoon.

While there are clearly still areas that need fine-tuning, notably finishing, Bafana have emerged from the Confed with far more confidence than when they began it.

Head coach Joel Santana’s assistant, Jairo Leal, said he feels Bafana have a chance of beating Spain for third place.

“The players have improved a lot through this competition — their personality and confidence has grown.

“Now they understand exactly what the coach wants from them, and what they are able to do. We’re going to fight for third place because the players have worked hard, and they deserve to finish third. We can’t underestimate Spain because they will not want to lose two games in a row, but we are ready for them.

“We are ready to face any team in the world now. This competition was very important for the experience gained, especially by the younger players. Now they will not be stressed playing against big teams.”

Captain Aaron Mokoena, who had a mixed tournament having given away the free-kick that led to Alves’s goal and also a penalty in Bafana’s 2-0 Group A defeat against Spain, said after Thursday’s semi-final: “The Confed has been a great experience for us and the fact that we managed to match the giants, Brazil, in almost every department and threaten them is really motivating for us.

“We’ve been playing under pressure. There were a lot of people who didn’t really believe in the team. We were trying to show that we have talent in South Africa, and that we have a team to be proud of and I think we’ve done that.”

Defender Matthew Booth said he believes Bafana’s Confed performance has shown they will be competitive in 2010.

“It’s a great feeling and it’s just a pity we couldn’t get any positive results against the bigger teams,” he said.

Booth admitted that Bafana not qualifying for January’s African Nations Cup in Angola is a setback, with the team only able to play in friendlies between tomorrow’s third/fourth place playoff and the World Cup kickoff in June next year.

“I think it will be very difficult [to maintain the intensity] but I think as players we have to psychologically change our mindset and approach it differently, and treat each game as a cup final.

“It would have been very nice to play in the Nations Cup, but that’s not going to happen. But I think the players have learnt a hell of a lot over this tournament and hopefully we can keep the same mentality.”

The central defender only came into the starting line-up thanks to the late exclusion of Nasief Morris. But, like goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, whose selection ahead of Rowen Fernandez was criticised, Booth has put himself forward as a potentially key player in 2010.

Asked if Bafana had learnt any lessons from the group stage defeat to Spain.

“Ja, not to give them any half-chances,” he said. “I think we have to concentrate for 90 minutes this time. We can’t let players like Villa and Torres get half-chances.

“It’s going to be another tough game. It will be interesting to see how they approach the game. But we definitely have got revenge mode in mind and the bronze medal in our sights as well.”

Leal was asked how it felt, as a Brazilian, to see the players he has helped coach match his home country.

“I am proud about my boys — the South African players. They are my boys. They performed very well — the result didn’t come but I am very proud because we can see how they are improving.”

THIRD/FOURTH PLACE PLAYOFF

Tomorrow: South Africa v Spain (Royal Bafokeng Stadium, 3 pm) – live on SABC1 and SuperSport 3.

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