Tumo Mokone

Life's tough in Bafana camp

2008-01-11 13:07

Tumo Mokone

The new-look Bafana squad has less than two weeks to develop as a unit before they face the best African soccer has to offer in the Cup of Nations.

But knowing one another will not be enough as there are crucial aspects like international experience, mental and physical preparedness to consider as well.

Lest we forget, it was lack of international awareness that led to Bafana being knocked out in the first round in Egypt in 2006. To add insult to injury, South Africa returned home without scoring a single goal. Their 2006 form, however, did not surprise because an experimental side was selected.

The Ghana-bound team is not big in international experience either. Uncapped players like Itumeleng Khune and Tumelo Nhlapo began their professional careers just four months ago. Many others, including Bryce Moon, Kagiso Dikgacoi and Thembinkosi Fanteni, earned their first Bafana caps no earlier than 2007.

Physical and mental strength

The difference however is that the 2008 side is made up of form players who are churning out brilliant performances at club level. Our team however remains one of the lightweights of the tournament in terms of experience.

We are going to have to show an enormous fighting spirit to survive in Ghana, and that is going to demand the kind of physical and mental strength not seen south of Limpopo in ages.

So far the mood in camp is encouraging, despite the Steven Pienaar saga. I think the national team management handled the Pienaar issue very badly when they forcefully demanded the player to report to camp ahead of an important League Cup match in England. For the record, Everton went on to lose 2-1 to Chelsea in the semi-final clash.

Those who watched the game on TV are adamant that Everton missed Pienaar. The irony is that his Nigerian teammate, Yakubu Aiyegbeni scored Everton's only goal before he flew out to join the Nigeria team in camp.

Stylish midfielder

Pienaar, who badly wanted to play against Chelsea, tried hard to put up a brave face in his first training session with Bafana in Durban on Tuesday. Everton's loss against Chelsea will also be felt by Bafana at a later stage, thanks to the national team's managers.

Bafana coaches know full well that Pienaar struggled with his form in the national team last year.

Part of his problem was that he struggled to find his footing in England after arriving there on loan from Borussia Dortmund. But the past six weeks had been different, with the stylish midfielder enjoying his best spell since arriving in England.

He asked for one additional match for Everton to extend this momentum. Bafana stood to benefit because a happier Pienaar has the ability to lift the team. There is no doubting that the lad from Westbury in Johannesburg is hurt, and that is not something Bafana need to build team spirit.

Steamy and hot

Bafana meet Mozambique on Sunday in Durban in their penultimate warm-up match. The opposition is decent, but choosing to play in Durban shows a lack of foresight on SA's part. This match should have scheduled for Maputo, and Bafana should have been put on a bus for a five-hour trip to the Mozambican capital, just to give them a taste of what to expect in Ghana.

Maputo is very hot this time of the year and the high humidity levels are exactly what the players will have to contend with in Tamale, the Ghanaian inland city where Bafana will be based for their first two matches. Maputo is as steamy and hot as Tamale, which this week averaged 38 degrees Celsius in temperature.

Moreover, why cling on the comforts of Durban, when the conditions of the battlefield in Ghana will be different? Tamale is not a coastal city; it would have made more sense had Bafana set up camp in Thohoyandou where conditions - climatic and social - are closer to what the team will be exposed to at their base in west Africa.

Just to back up my case, Cameroon are in camp in Burkina Faso, Ghana's neighbours to the north.

  • Tumo writes exclusively for Sport24.

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