Serbia a stiff test for Bafana

2009-08-12 00:00

AFTER the drama and hype of their promising Confederations Cup, it could be difficult for Bafana Bafana to come back to earth, and maintain the same tempo, in their friendly international against Serbia at the Super Stadium in Atteridegville, Pretoria tonight.

Bafana coach Joel Santana, having been sick, was passed fit to travel and arrived back in South Africa yesterday from Brazil to oversee yesterday’s training session at the Super Stadium, after the squad was put through its first two sessions by assistant coaches Pitso Mosimane and Jairo Leal.

Mosimane has expressed his concern that Bafana might not be as sprightly and energetic as they were in the Confed, where they lost narrowly to eventual winners Brazil and world No.1-ranked Spain in the semi-finals and third/fourth place playoff.

“There’s nothing you can do,” the former Ionikos and Jomo Cosmos player said. “There have been a lot of disruptions because of player movements, and we expect most players to arrive in camp with heavy legs due to a punishing pre-season.”

Serbia have arrived minus some of their leading players. Manchester United star Nemanja Vidic is injured, while Inter Milan playmaker Dejan Stankovic and wingers Bosko Jankovic of Genoa and Ajax Amsterdam’s Mirulem Suljemani have all been rested.

But the Serbs currently top France in their World Cup qualifying group by eight points, albeit having played two more games. And, having brought a squad to South Africa consisting of players mostly based in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and Holland, they should still provide a stiff test for Bafana.

Most notable is Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, who scored two goals in the Blues’ 3-1 victory against Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal in April.

Number one goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic of Sporting Lisbon said the Serbs will be using tonight’s friendly as a warm-up for a crucial qualifier against France.

“We are going a long way for what has been described as a ‘friendly’, but people must realise that our focus is on the up-coming qualifier against France on September 9 in Belgrade.

“We are practically in the World Cup already thanks to the training we have received from [coach Raddy] Antic and we are confident that we will be returning to South Africa next year,” Stojkovic said.

Leal described the friendly, the first in a long line against mostly European and South American opposition building up to the June 11 kickoff of the World Cup next year, as crucial to Bafana’s continued development.

“This is an important part of our build-up for 2010,” he said.

“We need as many competitive matches as possible before June next year to prepare the side.

“We have done our homework and have analysed a number of Serbia’s World Cup qualifying matches. I believe they will prove to be very tough opponents.

“But they are the sort of opposition we need to keep our players sharp and prepared.”

Santana is expected to field a team close to the starting line-ups he utilised in the Confed, including goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and defenders Siboniso Gaxa, Matthew Booth, Aaron Mokoena and Tsepo Masilela. Macbeth Sibaya, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Teko Modise and Steven Pienaar are the likely midfielders.

With Bernard Parker injured there is a chance to stake a claim for new call-up Richard Henyekane, Katlego Mashego and Katlego Mphela, the two-goal hero against Spain.

Kickoff: 7 pm — shown delayed on SABC1 from 8.30 pm

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