‘I can’t wait to play Friday’

2010-06-09 00:00

THE growing sense that Bafana Bafana can progress past Group A in the World Cup is emphasised by the fact that their on-form creative influence, left wing Siphiwe Tshabalala, will earn his 50th cap in Friday’s opener against Mexico at Soccer City.

Since Carlos Alberto Parreira’s first stint in charge of the team from 2007, Tshabalala was among players identified as a potential match-winner for the national team at the World Cup.

The game time the Kaizer Chiefs midfielder has been given at international level is sure to stand him in good stead in the pressure cauldron of the gigantic tournament.

“I can’t wait to play on Friday,” Tshabalala told a press conference in Sandton yesterday.

“I hope to celebrate my special day with a good performance and victory as well.

“It’s a great feeling [being about to play in a World Cup]. We all know the importance of winning the first game. We know Mexico’s not going to make it easy for us.

“But we’ve prepared and we’re more than ready to go out there and do our best for the country.”

With their improving form, the emphasis has shifted for the South Africans from going out for a possible draw against Mexico to definitely playing for a win.

“We are fit and in good condition and I don’t see anything stopping us,” Tshabalala said.

“We just have to go out there and make those millions of South Africans happy. I think they deserve it because they have been cheering and sending positive messages that have really kept us going.”

Tshabalala, along with Orlando Pirates playmaker Teko Modise, finished the Premier Soccer League season looking jaded and out of form, but the pair have been rejuvenated in Bafana’s pre-World Cup training camps.

Along with Parreira’s coaxing of players previously not thought of as World Cup material, such as midfielders Thanduyise Khuboni and Reneilwe Letsholonyane, this will make Bafana a stronger side than the one that reached the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup in June last year.

“What the coach has really done was to tell us the importance of playing in the World Cup and to believe in ourselves,” Tshabalala explained. “And that the best weapon is to keep it simple and do the basics right.

“That really has helped us improve our game. Personally he’s helped me a lot by always shouting at me. I’m really enjoying my game now and it’s thanks to him and my team-mates as well.”

Defender Matthew Booth summed up the difference that has been made by Parreira’s return to replace Joel Santana in November.

“Under Santana we had a very good Confederations Cup, but the friendlies after that were pretty poor. There were a number of reasons for that, injuries for one.

“Then when Santana left us it was great for a coach of Mr Parreira’s calibre to come in and steady the ship. He brought confidence and has also had three months’ preparation, which is not afforded to many coaches.”

Booth said the training camps in Brazil and Germany with local-based squads helped forge a togetherness and mental toughness in the core of the squad.

“It’s basically three months together and time is a form of bonding. When you spend three months on the road with the lads it’s natural that you’re going to come closer together.

“It’s not easy being away from your families for a month in Brazil and three weeks in Germany. So that in itself mentally toughens you.

“They also brought in a motivational speaker and a dietician, etcetera, etcetera — everything’s been done really professionally and that all adds to the oneness of the team. The preparations have gone fantastically and I believe we’re peaking at the right time.”

Booth drew on Italy’s 2-1 warm-up defeat against Mexico last week for direction on how Bafana might beat the central Americans.

“If you saw the Italy-Mexico game, the Italians were a bit sluggish and let Mexico have far too much space.

If we deny them space that’s going to be the battle won.

“Of course the other element is the crowd — 90 000 people willing us on is going to be a very important factor in our favour,” he added.

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