BAFANA GET SE­RI­OUS

World Cup warm-up games are any­thing but ‘friendly’

Saturday Star - - SPORT - KAM­LESH GO­SAI

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.

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