Trip to Freetown will test Bafana’s character: how will they respond?

2010-10-07 00:00

SIERRA Leone’s 1-1 African Nations Cup qualifying draw in their opener against Egypt in Cairo has served notice that this weekend’s trip to Freetown will be no stroll in the park for Bafana Bafana.

Freetown still bears the scars of a brutal, blood diamond-fuelled civil war that ended in 2002.

And while the city has since regained much of its beach paradise charm, it remains a difficult football destination to visit.

The journey includes a 30-minute boat trip to the stadium that can reportedly be quite harrowing.

South Africa got first-hand experience of the difficulty of the venue when they lost 1-0 to Sierra Leone on their last trip to that country’s capital in 2008, a result that was crucial to Joel Santana’s troubled team not qualifying for the 2010 Afcon finals.

Trying to find information on the Sierra Leone national football team is not easy, and even somewhat confusing.

According to various reports, any one of three Banguras who play for the national team scored the goal that put the Leone Stars ahead in Cairo, before Ahmed Fathallah equalised within four minutes.

Moustapha Bangura is a 20-year-old attacking midfielder who plays for Apollon Limassol in Cyprus. He has attracted attention from clubs in more esteemed European leagues, such as Germany’s Werder Bremen and France’s AS Monaco.

Alhassan Bangura, a midfielder currently on the books of Turkish club Mersin İidmanyurdu, played 62 games for Watford between 2005 and 2009, including in the club’s one-year Premier League season in 2006/07.

Bangura is famous for the manner in which he arrived in Europe. He was granted asylum in England having been the victim of a French human trafficker, who intended to use him, then a teenager, as a male prostitute.

Mohamed Bangura is a powerful, pacy 21-year-old forward who plies his trade at club level in Sweden, for AIK.

Another dangerous player for the West Africans is striker Kei Kamara, who scored 11 goals in 29 games last season for Kansas City Wizards in America’s MLS.

With many young players currently in their side, it should be assumed that Sierra Leone currently have a new generation coming through, which could mean their 132nd world ranking is well below the team’s potential.

In contrast, South Africa’s ranking has positively rocketed in 2010 from 85th in January to 58th.

Carlos Alberto Parreira might have come in for some criticism for Bafana’s failure to reach the second round of the World Cup, particularly from the Johannesburg press, but there can be no doubt the Brazilian had a positive effect, carried on by successor Pitso Mosimane.

Bafana have lost just one game out of 15 this year (their 3-0 World Cup defeat to Uruguay), a remarkable turnaround from the team’s woeful form of the past half-decade. They have won nine games and drawn five.

Teams beaten include France, Colombia, Ghana and Denmark. The South Africans have drawn against Mexico, Bulgaria and Paraguay.

On paper it should be a mismatch against Sierra Leone. But playing away in Africa is the great leveller.

It is not just the opposition, but the playing conditions, accommodation, transport, an often intimidating atmosphere and home decisions made by dodgy referees that must be overcome.

There’s a refreshing new air about Bafana, and their 1-1 draw away against Paraguay in difficult conditions in Asuncion before the World Cup suggests this is not necessarily just in home games.

Their trip to Freetown, though, will be an examination of the team’s character and indication of whether this is the Bafana of old, who at times withered in the face of tough conditions in Africa, or a new team capable of getting results under testing circumstances.

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