‘Things are happening for us’

2009-06-23 00:00

THE fact that they’re playing one of the two strongest teams in the world in Brazil, and are not expected to win, means Bafana Bafana have nothing to lose in their Confederations Cup semi-final at Ellis Park on Thursday, said midfielder Benson Mhlongo.

Drawing on the inspiration of the famous friendly at Johannesburg Stadium in 1996, where Bafana shocked Brazil to be 2-0 up at half-time before running out 3-2 losers, Mhlongo said South Africa have no choice but to go all out for a victory on Thursday.

“History can repeat itself, but it’s up to us as players to let it happen,” the midfielder said yesterday. “The way we played against Spain gave us confidence. We have to play to win because we’ve got nothing to lose.”

South Africa qualified for the semi-finals with a 0-0 draw against Iraq, a 2-0 win over New Zealand and an encouraging 2-0 defeat to No.1-ranked Spain in Group A.

Despite this, coach Joel Santana appears not to have convinced a sceptical press and public just yet, and some newspapers have bizarrely and unrealistically speculated this might be the coach’s last game if Bafana do not give a good account of themselves.

“It’s not the last game for the coach,” Mhlongo said. “If you look at the reality, since [Carlos Alberto] Parreira came here three years ago, the team has been improving, and under Santana it’s still improving.

“Now is not the time to start rebuilding again — it’s to use the level we have at this moment and continue with the progress.”

Santana controversially played three defensive midfielders in two of the Group A games in Mhlongo, Macbeth Sibaya and Kagisho Dikgacoi, though for the semi-final Sibaya will be suspended and the coach will have to reshuffle his midfield. Mhlongo defended the strategy of using three defensive midfielders.

“Go back to the games and you will see our ’keeper never had much work to do. Against Spain, only the small mistakes we made cost us, and we can learn from that.

“Yes, the strategy might have been to go for a draw against Spain because we didn’t want to go into our last match with a suicidal approach. If you look at Group B, USA qualified because of the lapses of Egypt and Italy.

“I think we should praise ourselves and embrace the moment we have — we’ve made it through to a semi-final.”

South Africa will have to work hard to hold their own against the Brazilians, who demolished world champions Italy 3-0 in their last game.

Mhlongo said Bafana can take a cue from Egypt, who lost 4-3 to the Selecao in a thriller in the Group B opener.

“If Egypt can make it on the international stage, why not South Africa? It’s time for us to believe in ourselves. We can’t judge ourselves — we can only give ourselves confidence and give our best shot in the game.”

Sibaya said South Africa need to stick rigidly to the plan they have trained for. “Brazil and Spain win because they stick to their gameplan, and we have to do the same.”

Mhlongo said to be training for a semi-final of a major tournament was a new feeling for Bafana.

“I can’t describe the feeling. It’s wonderful to be here, training for a semi-final. We’ve worked so hard since coming together on May 13 and things are happening for us.

“That’s the difference from previous competitions — we’ve been pushing each other to find our own mistakes and where we are strong or weak. We can only cherish being in a semi-final.”

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