BAFANA GET SERIOUS
World Cup warm-up games are anything but ‘friendly’
BAFANA Bafana’s match against Guinea-Bissau at Moses Mabhida Stadium here today (3pm kick-off) is a friendly in status only as competition for positions intensifies in the build-up to the continental and World Cup qualifiers later this year.
This outing and Tuesday night’s friendly run against Angola in East London serve as warm-ups for the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier away to Cape Verde in September.
It means that although the side has a caretaker coach in Owen da Gama, whoever takes charge thereafter will rely on these games as a foundation to select the squad for the competitive matches.
That was the view of senior players Dean Furman and Ramahlwe Mphahlele who said that as much as the coaches will experiment with combinations, it will be within the context of establishing fir m partnerships for the qualifiers. No one could therefore afford to treat these matches lightly.
“The thinking behind opponents like Guinea-Bissau is that they were a Portuguese colony, they’ve got most of their players plying their trade in the second division in Portugal, and so do our opponents on Tuesday,” said Da Gama.
“Angola is exactly the same scenario. That’s preparation for our World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde, also a Portuguese colony, and they have players playing in the second division of Portugal. There’s lots of synergy, a lot of similarities between the teams, so I think it was a wise choice by the association to get opponents who are alike,” said the stand-in coach. “It’s important to focus on these two matches. This is our final preparation before the World Cup qualifier (in September).
“Whatever happens beyond this, with a new coach coming in or whatever, we have to prepare well, so its vital we are focused on the preparations at hand.”
As Da Gama, Mphahlele and Furman highlighted, it is vital to continue from where they left off in the World Cup qualifier win over Senegal in November.
“(Safa technical director) Neil Tovey said to us one of the vital things was our home form. We have to start putting teams to bed here at home and make it a very difficult place for teams to come to. Despite being only a friendly we want to win. Winning breeds confidence and gets the fans behind us,” said Furman, one of three vice-captains in the squad captained by goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.
“No one can say, ‘I’m playing’ because everyone is fighting for a position. Looking at myself the competition in midfield is high.
“We also have some players not in the team, like Bongani Zungu coming back to form and playing a lot of games in Portugal, so he’ll be looking to get back in the squad and it’s great to have that competition – it can only be healthy for us.” Mphahlele echoed those sentiments when he said he was fortunate to be selected given that other more experienced players like Anele Ngcongca were not in the squad.
Adding spice to the fight for places is the inclusion of youngsters like Phakamani Mahlambi, Luther Singh and Lorenzo Gordinho who will aim to make their debuts over the two assignments, while midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo and striker Kermit Erasmus are back in the squad after a lengthy absence following fallouts with former coach Ephraim Mashaba.
South Africa and Guinea-Bissau have never met before, but Bafana Bafana have played Angola 12 times. South Africa are ranked 13th in Africa and the West African visitors 19th. The hosts are 62nd in the Fifa rankings and 13th on the continent, while Guinea-Bissau and Angola are 80th and 19th and 148th and 45th respectively.
Owen da Gama, Bafana’s caretaker coach, centre, during a training session at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban this week.