analysisBy Ant Sims
All eyes will be on Bafana Bafana in the next few weeks as the team continues to fine-tune its preparations for the upcoming African Cup of Nations. A friendly against the reigning champions is one more step in the right direction.
Gordon Igesund’s mandate states that he needs to take Bafana Bafana to at least the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations, which is scheduled to be held in South Africa early next year. The coach currently has a 100% record against African opposition since he took charge of the national side, but his biggest test will come when South Africa faces Zambia on Wednesday night.
The two sides haven’t played each other in over three years – and Bafana emerged victorious that time – but the South African coach insists the match is simply another opportunity for him to fine-tune his side ahead of the continental showpiece. He says the challenge will be a good thing for his team.
"They [Zambia] are a really good team. They are well-organised and they have some useful players in the side," Igesund said.
"Win or lose, this game will give me a good indication where we are and how we are progressing.
"The players have had a tough weekend; some have played three games in a week, so I couldn't do anything with them (on Monday). On Tuesday I've got maybe an hour-and-a-half to prepare them for the match, but we'll be fine.
"This is the type of game that we need. I think we are much better than what we were a month ago, so I think it's a good game for us to have."
The squad has little time to prepare for the clash, having only congregated on Sunday evening. In fact, Bongani Khumalo and Anele Ngcongca only linked up with the team late on Monday afternoon. But Igesund maintained it was all part of the package and that he was confident of his players’ abilities under the circumstances.
"Players arriving late isn't a surprise to us. We are always aware of the situation that the players coming from overseas are going to come late.”
Bafana Bafana has struggled defensively, and while the team lost narrowly to both Brazil and Poland, it was goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune who played blinders in both matches to minimise embarrassment. Getting the back four organised and ensuring the side clicks going forward is one of the biggest challenges for Igesund ahead of Afcon.
Pressure and expectations always play a part in preparations in any sport, and while Bafana Bafana will certainly want to walk away as winners, especially with the fickle nature of fans and those in charge of the game, Zambian captain Christopher Katongo thinks differently. The skipper reckons the friendly match is simply that – friendly – and it’s all in aid of the bigger picture.
"There is no pressure on Bafana to win a friendly match. he pressure is on Bafana to win Afcon. We are doing the preparations right now, so there is no pressure on the players. They have to go out there and perform,” said Katongo.
For his part, Igesund's opposite number, Zambian coach Herve Renard, was bullish ahead of the contest and insisted Zambia would be giving it their all.
"I expect the game against South Africa in Johannesburg to be a very interesting. It will be a good game in a fantastic stadium. For us, we are going there for a win. We want to win this Mandela Challenge and we are looking forward to it. It’s a platform for us to continue carrying forward the pride of our great country Zambia,” Renard told fazfootball.com.
Just like Igesund, the Zambian coach will be using the match to help his charges prepare for the upcoming continental showpiece.
“We also have a good opportunity to start our preparations for the Africa Cup. Our target for now is to be ready for the 21st of January 2013, and the work starts now. We are starting to the work on Wednesday, and when January 21 comes, we will be ready.”