Tricky timing for Igesund as Bafana prepare to face the world’s best

2013-10-31 00:00

NEWS that Bafana Bafana will be playing against world and European champions Spain on November 19 has a bitter-sweet taste.

It is quite sweet and good that our national team will be playing the world No 1 nation.

However, the match really puts Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund in a quandary.

It would have been perfect timing if the match came as a preparatory game for the 2014 Soccer World Cup, but Bafana Bafana are already out of that shindig.

Igesund has to prepare the team for the African Nations Championship (Chan) that will be hosted in this country in January next year. This tournament, a Confederation of African Football (Caf) brainchild, is contested by home-based players only.

So what this means is that Igesund cannot call the upcoming friendly a preparation for Chan because there is no way he can exclude overseas players when playing against the world champions.

He will need his strongest side to face a nation that boasts a galaxy of stars such as Iker Casillas, David Villa, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Xavi.

The Spaniards are sure to bring their strongest squad because this will surely be part of their build-up to the World Cup — an event they have already qualified for.

The timing of this match must bring into sharp focus the challenge Igesund faces if he is retained as coach beyond his contract’s expiry next year.

The Bafana coach will actually need the wisdom of Solomon to be able to juggle his squad around in such a way that he prepares it adequately for the Chan and the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations while building for the 2018 World Cup as he has promised.

This is not an easy task as he will be forced to field his strongest squads, using all the overseas-based players for some matches while also blooding in some young players and also getting good results at the same time.

And who said being a national team coach was a walk in the park?

This match, as well as the mooted March friendly against five-time world champions Brazil, are the way to go and can be read as proof that the newly-elected South African Football Association (Safa) leadership is serious about dragging the national team out of the quagmire.

These are the kind of matches our national team needs to play if they nurse any ambitions of being a world-class outfit.

We are far from being world-beaters, but the journey to reaching that level must start somewhere.

Playing prominent football nations was the route followed in building the team that won the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in 1996.

Prior to that Afcon triumph, Bafana Bafana, who were a few years young —having only been assembled in 1992 — had played Brazil, Germany and Argentina.

They had also come up against African giants such as Egypt and Zambia in the Simba Four Nations Tournament that was devised to help them prepare for the Afcon after being awarded host status at the eleventh hour.

This meant they could no longer participate in the qualifiers as they qualified automatically as hosts.

And the results are there for everyone to see what Clive Barker achieved with that bunch of players.

But alas! It is now a distant memory that Bafana Bafana used to host such top nations with even Holland visiting these shores.

And then there was the Soweto derby on Saturday!

The only memory I have of that are the rows and rows of empty orange seats at the FNB Stadium.

This should be a worrying sign for the Premier Soccer League as well as owners of both Kaizer Chiefs, who were the hosts, and Orlando Pirates.

Except for the opening 2010 World Cup match between South Africa and Mexico, the Soweto derby has so far been the only other soccer match to fill the FNB Stadium to capacity.

So where were the crowds on Saturday? Your guess is as good as mine but I think it is a cause for worry.

If even the derby can no longer fill this national monument, how great or remote are chances of it becoming a white elephant?

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