Sport

Afcon: More Durban poison for Bafana, please

Carlos Amato

Bafana are confident that the Moses Mabhida Stadium will stay lucky for them as they take on Morocco on Sunday.

Bafana Bafana players congratulate Lehlohonolo Majoro (No 7), who scored the team’s second goal against Angola. (Gallo)

Found: the old spirit of Bafana Bafana. For the fans, watching the rousing comeback at the Moses Mabhida Stadium was a bit like stumbling on a beer-stocked oasis after days of crawling through a baking desert.

It was the first competitive victory by the national side since the triumph over Egypt at Ellis Park in 2011 – and it raises the enticing prospect of their first adventure beyond the first round in any serious tournament since the 2002 Africa Nations Cup.

A victory against Morocco on Sunday evening would see Bafana top their group and, crucially, stay at Moses Mabhida, where the magnificent crowd support and booming acoustics create an intense atmosphere that's always missed at Johannesburg's vast but strangely soulless National Stadium. Remarkably, Bafana have only ever lost once in Durban – to England in a friendly encounter. The city is also the scene of that fairytale victory over Cameroon in Bafana's first-ever game in 1992.

"Durban is our land of milk and honey," said Katlego Mphela on Wednesday night. Bafana must make it the land of Durban poison for Morocco on Sunday night.

To secure that precious quarter­final spot, coach Gordon Igesund will need to repeat the balls-to-the-wall selection and formation that saw off the hapless Angolans. Against Morocco, the starting forward diamond of Tokelo Rantie, Mphela, Thuso Phala and Bernard Parker should resume their good work.

Rantie's finishing was far from cool on Wednesday, but his hard running and raw pace make him a difficult enough customer to deserve another outing. The same goes for Phala, and centreforward Mphela and number 10 Parker are steadily approaching form.

Tidy and creative
Behind the attacking quartet, May Mahlangu should again provide a dynamic link between defence and attack. The Angola game was a breakthrough showing for Mahlangu, who had not yet fully showcased his qualities to local fans. He's quick, bold and cultivated, and has a sharp eye for space. Reneilwe Letsholonyane was also tidy and creative when he came on in the second half, but Mahlangu has probably leapfrogged "Yeye" in the selection pecking order.

Dean Furman also made a big splash on Wednesday, claiming the affections of the Bafana faithful with his tenacious, steady work at the base of midfield. The Oldham captain, formerly of Chelsea's youth side, is no maestro but he keeps things tidy and simple – and he seemed to have a better feel for the rhythm of his side than poor old Kagisho Dikgacoi. Furman did not resemble a third-tier footballer on Wednesday.

Behind Furman, the back five kept a third successive clean sheet. Siyabonga Sangweni did exactly what Clive Barker predicted he would before the tournament – set the tone with his warrior spirit. And that classy early turn by his centreback partner Bongani Khumalo, followed by an assured overall performance, started to dispel the undeserved scepticism of Bafana fans. It's time to start looking beyond Khumalo's Model C accent, or the fact that he has never played for either of the Soweto giants. The big lad can defend – but to really convince us, he does need to start putting away those inviting headers at set pieces.

Tsepo Masilela and Anele Ngcongca were both solid, and Itumeleng Khune was his usual excellent self, distributing superbly and commanding his box.

The only worrying hole in Bafana's game plan for the Morocco clash is the seven-stitch gash in Lehlohonolo Majoro's shin. The talented Kaizer Chiefs forward has been ruled out for two games, which means he will only return if Bafana make the semifinals. That's an eventuality that remains less likely without his services.

It is a big blow for Igesund: Majoro's audacious confidence in front of his home crowd was wonderful to watch.

Mix for qualification
There will be some consolation in the news that the Atlas Lions will be without their star playmaker, Younès Belhanda of Montpellier, who is suspended after receiving his second booking of the tournament against Cape Verde. Getafe midfielder Abdelaziz Barrada was impressive and will provide the attacking spark. The predatory striker Youssef El-Arabi will need careful policing too.

The Moroccans' stalemate with the Cape Verdeans has put Bafana in control of the group, two points clear of both sides and in command of their own destiny. Not that it can't all go pear-shaped. The Atlas Lions will be fiercely motivated and, because both Angola and Cape Verde are still in the mix for qualification, there is no room for complacency.

The memories of Bafana foolishly celebrating a draw in Nelspruit in 2011 are still vivid and painful. But there were encouraging signs that Bafana are not about to lose focus. The players were happy after the match, but not unduly so, and Igesund was responsibly cautious in his comments. "We are by no means in the clear. It's only one win, so we don't want to get too excited," he said.

Before the game, the five changes he made to his line-up seemed desperate. But desperation was the reality of the situation.

"I gambled," admitted Igesund. "I said to myself, I'm not scared to lose. I thought, if I can tell the players I'm not scared to lose, maybe they also won't be."

They weren't. And, more importantly, they weren't scared of winning either.

Topics In This Section

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus