BAFANA Bafana have their work cut out as they face a classy Malian team in Saturday’s African Nations Cup quarterfinal at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
Mali go into the game with the war in their country on their minds. The national team have said they wish to succeed in this tournament to give good news to their countrymen; so, like Bafana on a nation-building mission, they have all to play for.
Certainly Les Aigles (the Eagles) should be the favourites as they are ranked No3 in Africa and 25th in the world. The West Africans were third-placed finishers in the last Nations Cup, a year ago in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
South Africa’s low world ranking of 85 has become something of a moot point in this competition. Their achievement of reaching the quarters after a tough 0-0 draw against Cape Verde, an impressive 2-0 win against Angola and a fighting 2-2 draw against Morocco has far outperformed their ranking.
Under the strong leadership of coach Gordon Igesund, Southern Africa’s underachievers of the past 10 years have found their confidence again. Saturday’s quarterfinal will be their first since losing 2-0 to hosts Mali in 2002, the only previous meeting between the two teams.
Bafana have shown several frailties in the tournament. After they created barely any scoring chances in their opener, Igesund employed an ultra-attacking line-up and four goals have flowed since, but the offensive imbalance of the team was often exposed by Morocco.
A shaky central defence of Siyabonga Sangweni and Bongani Khumalo has not helped. But confidence has been provided by the way the South Africans hung on against the Atlas Lions and fought back through two stunning goals.
Right wing Thuso Phala said on Thursday the draw against a determined Morocco gave Bafana the workout they needed for the knockout stages.
"It’s always an advantage coming from a difficult game to the knockout stages," he said.
"It’s boosted the confidence "
Igesund has had the benefit of four days of training sessions to iron out some of the kinks. But he has some tough decisions to make.
Lehlohonolo Majoro was impressive and scored coming off the bench against Angola. He has returned from injury, but does Igesund tamper with his forward line?
Does he introduce another defensive midfielder alongside Dean Furman to counter Mali’s two playmakers, Samba Sow and one of the top players of the tournament so far, Seydou Keita?
Queens Park Rangers right wing Samba Diakate and lone striker Mamadou Samassa can also be a handful. Unless they alter their game plan radically, Mali will not come at Bafana at 1,000 miles an hour as Morocco did, but their languid build-ups and suppressing game could be as difficult to play against.
Igesund has said he will have a game plan for taking on the tall Malians. This is set to revolve around utilising the pace and skill of runners such as Tokelo Rantie, Thulani Serero, Lerato Chabangu, Katlego Mphela and Majoro to get behind the Eagles and put them under pressure.
Saturday: Ghana v Cape Verde Islands — Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium 5pm; South Africa v Mali — Moses Mabhida Stadium 8.30pm
Sunday: Côte d’Ivoire v Nigeria — Royal Bafokeng Stadium 5pm; Burkina Faso v Togo — Mbombela Stadium 8.30pm