‘We can do better’

2008-01-12 00:00

IN football terms, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Tsepo Masilela are still just kids. Both turn to goo when cameras and microphones are shoved in their faces, as they were this week after a Bafana Bafana training session at the team’s African Nations Cup training camp.

At 23 and 22 respectively, the speedy, skilful Kaizer Chiefs left-wing and talented Maccabi Haifa left-back still have a long way to go in their football careers. Yet it is reflective of the youthful nature of the squad chosen by coach Carlos Alberto Parreira for the Nations Cup in Ghana, which starts on January 20, that Tshabalala and Masilela are two of just eight players who have previous experience taking part in the continental showpiece.

Both played small roles in caretaker-coach Ted Dumitru’s experimental line-up that flopped monumentally in Egypt two years ago, losing all three games without scoring a goal. Both had been picked from obscurity — Tshabalala after impressing for a PSL XI against Bafana in their final warm-up in Durban, and Masilela from Benoni Premier United, the club he left to pursue his fortunes in Israel at the beginning of this season.

As two of just five members of Dumitru’s squad to have survived through to this campaign, both believe South Africa have a better chance of making an impression this time round.

“Things are going very well. I am enjoying myself — the team spirit, we are preparing well, everyone is working hard. So far so good,” Masilela said of the first week of the training camp at Chatsworth Stadium.

“I’m looking forward to this tournament. The last one was not a good one, so hopefully we will go far this time.”

Masilela struggles to put into words what went wrong for Bafana in their Egyptian hiatus.

“I think we were unfortunate. We had a young team and many new players. It was one of those tournaments where things did not go well for us.

“To be honest it’s a tough tournament — physically, technically, tactically. So all I can say is that we must go there to fight this time.”

While the rest of the defence picks itself, with Bryce Moon, Nasief Morris and skipper Aaron Mokoena sure to be in the starting line-up in Bafana’s opener against Angola on January 23, the choice at left-back between Masilela and 24-year-old Pietermaritzburg-bred Brett Evans is far less certain.

“Every position has got two or three players so it’s a competition,” Masilela says. “It is a national team and no one is guaranteed a place.”

Chiefs’ exciting winger Tshabalala agrees that Bafana need to show greater hunger and fighting spirit if they are to survive the group stages against 2006 Afcon semi-finalists Senegal, 2004 winners Tunisia and 2006 World Cup qualifiers Angola.

“Last time things did not go well but hopefully this time we will do better and advance to the next round.

“We should really perform better because we have a good squad and a nice balance between some experienced campaigners and a lot of quality youngsters who are hungry.

“It won’t be easy to redeem our pride after the disappointment of the last Nations Cup, but as players we have to go there and fight, because we are not only doing it for ourselves but also for our families and the nation as a whole.”

In Egypt, Bafana were largely steamrollered by physically superior west and north Africans. Parreira has said the skilful South Africans can counter this problem by keeping the ball on the ground. “We are small in body but when it comes to playing I think we can match our opponents,” Tshabalala agrees.

How far can Bafana go? Masilela says: “It’s a young team and we are building towards 2010, and I am positive we will do well.

“Every team in the tournament wants to win the competition. I think we have a good team, we are preparing well. I think we can go as far as the quarter-finals or even semi-finals.”

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