Happy to be underdogs

2008-01-22 00:00

BAFANA Bafana have trained mostly out of the media glare in the dusty, rustic city of Tamale this week, which some feel could work in their favour at this African Nations Cup in Ghana where they open their tournament against Angola tomorrow evening.

In Egypt two years ago, the 1996 champions still attracted their fair share of attention from the international press, but bombed out in spectacular fashion in the first round. That poor performance by an experimental line-up has resulted in Bafana slipping into Ghana, away from the glare of the capital Accra, almost unnoticed, and this could be to the South Africans’ benefit.

Defender Benson Mhlongo was asked if Bafana’s abysmal performance two years ago might work to their advantage: “Yes it could be an advantage. If you come to a tournament as an underdog there is not so much attention on you. And the last time [in 2006] the preparations were not so good. So I think we have a good chance.”

With captain Aaron Mokoena having been moved to a pivotal anchor midfield role, Mhlongo will partner Nasief Morris in central defence. Questions might be asked of the Mamelodi Sundowns captain’s pace at the back in this tournament, but Mhlongo has at least had some experience marking Angola dangerman Flavio. The striker scored three times at the Afcon in Egypt and Angola’s only goal at the 2006 World Cup.

“I know Flavio, having played against him for Sundowns against Al Ahly in the African Champions League,” Mhlongo said. “So it’s up to me and the rest of the experienced players to guide these youngsters and make them believe in themselves.”

South Africa are not just underdogs in the tournament, but also in tough Group D, which includes 2004 Afcon winners Tunisia and 2002 finalists and 2006 semi-finalists Senegal.

“It’s a very strong group, but in tournaments like this it is about game by game. If we win 1-0, that will be enough,” Mhlongo stressed.

“We are ready for Angola. This is not just about two or three weeks of preparation. We have been playing together in friendly games against Canada and the U.S.A. We have to remind ourselves where we left off and continue from there.”

Tomorrow will mark the Nations Cup debut for 20-year-old Pietermaritzburg-bred Bryce Moon, who could make a name for himself on this stage playing at right-back. The Ajax Cape Town player said that in order to win the tournament, Bafana needs to display “hard work, dedication, a strong mentality, discipline and just go out there and fight”.

Moon forms a new, young left and right full-back combination with Maccabi Haifa’s Tsepo Masilela. The two have been playing for the Bafana “A” team as regulars only since the friendly warm-ups against Mozambique and Botswana in Durban last week, and are sure to face a sterner test against their experienced opponents.

“We’re aware we’ll be tested more and we’ll take it as it comes,” Moon said yesterday. “We won’t be able to get forward as much, but if we do go, there’s Aaron there to cover for us and we’re not going to be thinking just defensively — we’ll still try to be attacking.”

Asked if the hot, dry conditions in Tamale might affect Bafana, Moon replied: “No it won’t. We came here knowing the challenges we were going to face, knowing the weather conditions and the sand flying around. We were prepared for it, so I don’t think it will affect our game.”

Soccer on TV today

SABC 1

6.45 pm 2008 Africa Cup of Nations — Egypt vs Cameroon

SuperSport 3 on DStv

6.30 pm Africa Cup of Nations — Egypt v Cameroon

9 pm Sudan v Zambia, both live from Ghana.

SuperSport 6 on DStv

9.15 pm Carling Cup semifinal: Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal, live.

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