Bafana’s chance to shine

2011-03-26 00:00

AS early as their post-match interviews after their 2-1 defeat of France that was just not enough for Bafana Bafana to progress past the first round of the World Cup, the players were identifying tonight’s African Cup of Nations qualifier against Egypt as their next landmark test.

Back in June last year, though, the South Africans could not have predicted that they would be facing a Pharaohs side at Ellis Park who are on just one point from games against Niger and Sierra Leone, while Bafana top Group G with four points.

Egypt coach Hassan Shehata has turned up the heat by saying that whoever wins tonight will go to the 2012 finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

The hard-as-nails coach, who has guided the seven-time African champions to the last three Afcon titles, is probably spot-on with his assessment.

The next qualifying fixture in June is the return match and Egypt would be heavily favoured to win at the 80 000-seater Cairo International Stadium.

If the north Africans can win these two crucial matches they will have wrested back control of the group and be two points clear.

If South Africa can be victorious tonight against a team they have only ever beaten in friendlies, they will have seven points and Egypt still just one, and even a defeat in Cairo should not derail Bafana from qualifying for their first Nations Cup since Ghana 2008.

For Carlos Alberto Parreira’s replacement, Pitso Mosimane, tonight’s huge encounter has been the sole focus since a hard-fought 0-0 draw in Sierra Leone in October.

“This match has been a thorn in the flesh for me over the last six months and I have been looking forward to getting it out of my system,” the Bafana coach said yesterday.

“I have been thinking about it every three minutes of my life since we played Sierra Leone and the time has come. I believe the boys are ready. Let’s go and make history by beating them in an official match for the first time.”

If Bafana are to beat the golden Egyptian generation, who have shown signs of decline since their victory against Ghana in the Nations Cup final in Angola in February last year, then now would seem the most likely time.

Last month’s revolution in Egypt saw their domestic football suspended, and all but three of their squad are home-based.

The Pharaohs’ slump has seen them slip from ninth in the world in December to 35th, while last year Bafana lost just two games to rocket from 86th to their current 46th.

Egypt still have the stronger team on paper, but South Africa have home ground advantage and momentum on their side. It could be a fascinating contest.

For Mosimane, injury concerns Steven Pienaar, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Ruben Cloete have been passed fit.

Much will depend tonight on the ability of strikers Katlego Mphela and Davide Somma, and creative influences Tshabalala and Pienaar, to break down a notoriously tough defence marshalled by Wael Gomaa and Sayed Moawad.

In the absence of injury-blighted Tshepo Masilela, Mosimane appears set to field right-footed Siboniso Gaxa at left-back rather than risk a debut for Orlando Pirates’ Rueben Cloete against the experience of Egyptian right wing-back Ahmed Fathi.

Injuries have ruled out Pharaohs strikers Emad Motaeb and Amr Zaki, so Mohamed Zidan will lead their attack.

Supported from midfield by Mohamed Abou Treika, the pair are capable of wreaking havoc if given the space to.

For the new Bafana this is the time to step up, and if they do the national team’s fragile rebirth will have begun to ripen into a bright future.

 

SQUADS

South Africa

Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs), Wayne Sandilands (Mamelodi Sundowns), Darren Keet (Wits University)

Defenders: Siboniso Gaxa (Lierse SK), Morgan Gould, Bongani Khumalo (SuperSport United), Anele Ngcongca (RC Genk), Siyabonga Sangweni, (Golden Arrows), Prince Hlela (Bloemfontein Celtic), Rueben Cloete (Orlando Pirates)

Midfielders: Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane (Kaizer Chiefs), Sifiso Myeni (Wits University), Thanduyise Khuboni (Golden Arrows), Steven Pienaar (Tottenham Hotspur), Andile Jali, Tlou Segolela (Orlando Pirates), Daylon Claasen (Lierse SK), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Crystal Palace)

Strikers: Davide Somma (Leeds United), Bernard Parker (Panserraikos), Kermit Erasmus (SuperSport United), Katlego Mphela (Mamelodi Sundowns), Thulani Serero (Ajax Cape Town)

Egypt

Goalkeepers: Essam El-Hadary (Merreikh), Abdel El-Sayed (Zamalek), Mohamed Sobhy (Ismaily)

Defenders: Ahmed Fathi, Wael Gomaa, Sayed Moawad (Al-Ahly), Ahmed Elmohamady (Sunderland), Ahmed Samir Farag (Ismaily), Mahmoud Fathallah (Zamalek), Mohamed Naguib (Ittihad El-Shorta)

Midfielders: Hosni Abd Rabou, Amr El-Sulaya (Ismaily), Mohamed Shawky, Hossam Ghaly, Mohamed Abou Treika (Al Ahly), Ibrahim Salah, Shikabala (Zamalek), Walid Soliman (ENPPI)

Strikers: Mohamed Zidan (Borussia Dortmund), Ahmed Ali (Hilal), Al-Sayed Hamdy (Petrojet), Gedo (Al-Ahly), Ahmed Belal (Smouha)

 

ON TV

Tonight: Kickoff 8.05 pm – live on SABC1

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