Hlatshwayo up­beat about Bafana’s chances in Uyo

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MAZOLA MOLEFE

THULANI Hlatshwayo, the new per­ma­nent Bafana Bafana cap­tain, is not your one-stop shop for ex­plo­sive quotes. But the lit­tle that he gives you is of­ten con­vinc­ing enough, like yes­ter­day when the phys­i­cal de­fender spoke of how, de­spite the sta­tis­tics not favour­ing South Africa, they have pre­vi­ously run Nige­ria close.

The two sides col­lide once again on Satur­day in Uyo, a tough as­sign­ment as Bafana seek to start their qual­i­fi­ca­tion to the 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions with much more po­tency than they did two years ago. Then, un­der Shakes Mashaba, who has since been re­placed by Stu­art Bax­ter, Hlatshwayo and his team­mates played to a goal­less draw at home against The Gam­bia in Dur­ban and fol­lowed that up with a hu­mil­i­at­ing 3-1 de­feat away to lowly Mau­ri­ta­nia in Nouak­chott.

“I am up for the job,” said the skip­per, get­ting that out of the way first, see­ing as he was speak­ing to the me­dia for the first time as Bafana cap­tain, be­fore adding “I cap­tained the na­tional team against Nige­ria be­fore, when we played in Mbombela (in March 2015) and we un­for­tu­nately only man­aged a draw in a game I think we should have won, af­ter we missed a penalty. We were dom­i­nant.”

In 12 meet­ings against the Su­per Ea­gles, only one win is reg­is­tered un­der the vic­tory col­umn for Bafana, a 2-1 win in the Man­dela Chal­lenge in 2004. Bax­ter was the coach, and he will be des­per­ate for a re­peat.

It’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal edge that Nige­ria seem to have over their coun­ter­parts. But there is a new broom –so to speak – in Bax­ter and the coach has af­firmed that his play­ers are in high spir­its be­cause of com­pe­ti­tion for places.

There’s also the fact that they are gear­ing up for Nige­ria, the 2013 African cham­pi­ons, who still hold a grudge against Bafana af­ter they de­nied them the op­por­tu­nity to de­fend their tro­phy two years later in Equa­to­rial Guinea. Mashaba’s Bafana fin­ished top of a qual­i­fy­ing group, above Nige­ria, Su­dan and Congo, and man­aged im­pres­sive draws against the Su­per Ea­gles both home and away.

“They have that ar­ro­gance about them, which means our job is to be 100 per­cent fo­cused and not give them any space. It fair to say we know enough about Nige­ria be­cause it is a side we have played from the ju­nior level to the se­nior ranks over the years and be­cause they are such a phys­i­cal team, usu­ally their style doesn’t change,” said Hlatshwayo. “I be­lieve we are as good as our last game. We played against Guinea-Bis­sau (3-1 win) and An­gola (0-0 draw) re­cently and we were sharp. The core of that team is here for this qual­i­fier. I spoke to the coach and he told me he didn’t want to make too many changes and kill the mo­men­tum. He is build­ing on that en­ergy we had from the last time we played. What is im­por­tant for us is to be aware dur­ing the crit­i­cal phases, and pre­vi­ous games against Nige­ria show that we haven’t done well in that de­part­ment.”

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