Bafana must continue their winning form – Igesund

2014-01-05 10:00

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The eventual release of Kaizer Chiefs and Bidvest Wits players to Bafana Bafana has strengthened coach Gordon Igesund’s squad for the African Nations Championship, which kicks off in South Africa on Saturday.

After tense negotiations between the SA Football Association (Safa), the Premier Soccer League (PSL) and the two clubs on Thursday and Friday, they eventually relented, thus ensuring Igesund has a full 23-man squad.

The latest additions were Itumeleng Khune, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Tsepo Masilela, Bernard Parker and Tefu Mashamaite (all Chiefs); and Moeneeb Josephs, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Ryan Chapman and Kwanda Mngonyama (all Wits).

By Friday, only 14 players had reported for camp.

Bafana’s team for the tournament now comprises players from seven PSL clubs – Chiefs, Wits, Sundowns, Swallows, Platinum Stars, Bloemfontein Celtic and University of Pretoria.

Igesund said he needed a full-strength team to continue Bafana’s winning streak.

“After beating Spain, we should carry on with the habit of winning and [the African Nations Championship] is a type of tournament where it is important for the team to do well,” he told City Press.

Bafana have won their last two matches – a historic 1-0 triumph over Spain in November and a 3-0 drubbing of Swaziland before that.

Igesund said: “The challenge is to get Bafana going to a point that we get into the top eight in Africa so that we can be seeded when the draw for big tournaments is made.”

The 16-nation competition is tailored for domestically based players and this will be the second time South Africa makes an appearance in it after their debut in the 2011 edition in Sudan.

The team, under then coach Simon Ngomane, was eliminated in the quarterfinals after winning all their matches in the group stage.

Igesund conceded that Bafana’s group – comprising Nigeria, Mali and Mozambique – was going to be tough.

He said, by comparison, Bafana’s opponents were inches ahead in terms of their build-up to the tournament.

The coach particularly bemoaned the “club vs country” row that played itself out the moment he announced his squad last month.

A mini training camp that was planned for December 27-30 had to be cancelled due to clubs’ reluctance to release players.

“We didn’t have the best of preparations as I’ll be having the first training session on Saturday [yesterday]. But I’m glad everyone around the team – from Safa to the PSL – worked very hard to resolve the problems with regards to the release of players in the past few days,” the coach said on Friday.

Bafana kick off their African Nations Championship campaign against Mozambique on Saturday, then go on to face Mali on January 15 and then Nigeria on January 19.

Meanwhile, most of the participating nations are expected to arrive in South Africa this week.

And, in the absence of familiar continental names such as Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), John Obi Mikel (Nigeria), Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo) and Asamoah Gyan (Ghana), there are still some names that are familiar to local football fans.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s flamboyant goalkeeper, Robert Kidiaba, will mark his return to these shores as he was part of the side that played in the Africa Cup of Nations here last year.

The TP Mazembe goalie will be playing in his third straight African Nations Championship tournament, having helped the west African side to victory in the maiden edition in Ivory Coast in 2009.

Former Orlando Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic will also be in town with his Uganda squad.

But none of the foreign African players in the PSL will take part in the tournament as it is reserved for players from local leagues.

Tunisia are the defending champions.

Taking their CHANces

As much as the African Nations Championship, also known as “CHAN”, is regarded as of less significance compared with all other CAF tournaments, there are still benefits for players in the much-maligned continental competition.

The tournament is contested by domestically based players and does not fall on the Fifa calendar.

South Africa’s run to the quarterfinals in the 2011 edition paved the way for Moroka Swallows striker Edward Manqele and Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Jabulani Shongwe into the Bafana Bafana team.

Then SA developmental team coach Simon Ngomane picked the two players when South Africa made its debut at the 16-nation tournament hosted by Sudan.

Manqele, who at the time was an amateur player at Vodacom League side Trabzon FC from Randfontein, went on to sign for Free State Stars.

The 26-year-old – who is on loan at Swallows from Mamelodi Sundowns – is currently the sought-after striker in the Absa Premiership as he is a transfer target for Kaizer Chiefs.

Similarly, 23-year-old Shongwe also first donned the national team jersey in a CHAN event when he was gradually making a name for himself after he came through Sundowns’ development side Puk Tawana.

The budding midfielder is steadily establishing himself as a regular pick for Bafana coach Gordon Igesund in the team and he and Manqele were part of the Bafana squad that finished third in the Cosafa Cup in July last year.

The stage is now set for latest Bafana call-ups Asavela Mbekile of Moroka Swallows, Platinum Stars’ Lindokuhle Mbatha and Wits’ Kwanda Mngonyama to seize their chances.

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