Pienaar says Bafana are on a learning curve again

2008-06-05 00:00

BAFANA Bafana are on yet another learning curve under yet another coach, which adds to the importance of attaining a confidence-boosting first victory in the African Nations Cup qualifier against Equatorial Guinea at the Super Stadium in Atteridgeville tomorrow.

With the cold snap that hit the country yesterday, the national team trained in a far more tolerable climate — in footballing terms — than during Sunday’s 2-0 defeat against Nigeria in steaming Abuja.

Speaking after the session, Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar said the temperature in the Nigerian capital had hovered around 40˚ C, and was a major contributor in the South Africans’ leaden-legged performance.

Apart from the weather, taking on minnows Equatorial Guinea in the stadium where Bafana put in a polished performance in Carlos Alberto Parreira’s last match in charge to overwhelm Paraguay 3-0 in March, presents an altogether less intimidating prospect than the Super Eagles.

The Paraguay result appeared to be an indicator that Bafana’s prospects had brightened. Parreira’s shock departure and the 2-0 defeat in Joel Santana’s first match show that, once again, Bafana’s future is clouded in uncertainty.

A win against Equatorial Guinea would steady the ship, and ease Bafana’s nerves in Group Four.

Pienaar played in central midfield against Nigeria and struggled to make an impact operating outside of his normal wide role — on the right for the national team and left for Everton — though he points out Bafana were always on the back foot.

“We played with Surprise [Moriri] up-front and me as a midfielder and having to join in,” Pienaar said. “But as the game went on the field became bigger because we dropped deeper.

“For me, it was the first time playing centrally after almost two years. Generally we struggled to combine.”

Pienaar said the heat played a role in Bafana not being able to put together passes, which resulted in the team ineffectively knocking in crosses from deep that were easily dealt with by the big Nigerian defenders.

“It was difficult in that heat to push up and down for 90 minutes. That’s why, automatically, you just want to pump the ball in. I definitely think the passing will improve on Saturday.”

Equatorial Guinea has the smallest population in Africa of just 500 000 people, but its football team is ranked just six places behind Bafana at 74th. They won their opening game 2-0 at home against Sierra Leone and will be an unknown quantity to Bafana.

“We’re going to watch the video tonight,” Pienaar said. “We know it’s a small country, but they won their first game, so we can’t go thinking it will be easy.”

If Bafana are on a learning curve, they will need to do some cramming. The national team are playing four Afcon qualifiers in four weeks, and cannot afford to slip up tomorrow, or against Sierra Leone next weekend, and the return leg against Sierra Leone on June 21.

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