Bafana jump into deep end against Algeria

2015-01-19 00:00

TONIGHT’S Africa Cup of ­Nations clash against Algeria will provide a good indication of exactly how far Bafana Bafana have come under Shakes Mashaba.

The sides meet in Mongomo, a small city in the Equatorial Guinea mainland, in their first Group C clash of Afcon 2015. The game starts at 9 pm.

There is no doubt that Algeria, ranked 18th in the world, above any African nation, go into the match as overwhelming favourites. Bafana have improved to 52nd on that list, but none of that matters to Mashaba and his players as they seek to win their first major trophy since hosting the tournament in 1996. More significant than the world rankings is the fact that Bafana are undefeated in all of the 10 matches that they have played since Mashaba took the reins in July last year. Six of those matches formed Bafana’s successful qualifying campaign for this tournament, while there have been friendlies against the Ivory Coast, Zambia, Cameroon and Mali since then.

But all of that is over now. The preparation is complete, and ready or not Bafana will jump straight into the deep end against the pre-tournament favourites.

There was good news over the weekend when defender Rivaldo Coetzee and strikers Tokelo Rantie and Bernard Parker were declared fit for tonight. There had been injury doubts hovering over the trio and Mashaba managed them wisely by limiting their involvement in the friendlies leading up to the continental showpiece.

The coach has a difficult job on his hands in terms of selection, having seen numerous good performances while rotating his players.

Darren Keet will be expected to return in goal ahead of Brilliant Khuzwayo and Jackson Mabokgwane, while Coetzee should partner Erick Matoho in central defence. Anele Ngcongca will almost certainly start at right back, while Thabo Matlaba appears to be the front runner to start on the opposite defensive flank.

The ever-improving partnership between Dean Furman and Andile Jali will be seen once more, but who Mashaba decides to employ as his wide attackers is a difficult one to call. Mandla Masango, Thuso Phala, Themba Zwane, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Rantie and even Oupa Manyisa will come into contention for a place on the wing. Up front it seems probable that Mashaba will once again favour AmaZulu’s Bongani Ndulula, but whether or not he opts for a two-pronged attack with Parker included remains to be seen.

There is also no final ­confirmation on who Bafana’s ­captain for the tournament will be. It appeared that Furman had been given that honour, but Mashaba shook things up by giving Jali the armband against Mali last week in a match that Furman started. But none of that is on Furman’s mind at the moment.

“We have shown some great form in the qualifying stages and hopefully we can continue this form in the tournament,” Furman told Fifa’s website after arriving in Mongomo. “I think the group will be very tight, we know we are coming up against some top teams and players who are competing in top leagues in the world, but we are going to Equatorial Guinea to fight.”

The 26-year-old, who scored his second international goal in the win over Mali, did not view Algeria as the outright favourites in ­Guinea.

“We hope to come back as winners, but right now it is hard to pick a favourite. All 16 teams will believe they are in with a chance,” he said.

“We will make our nation proud and we will make our families proud. We’ve got great belief within our ranks, and we’ve got some top players and are very excited to go and showcase that at the tournament.”

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