/ 2 September 2008

Nothing is impossible, says Tinkler

Former Bafana Bafana captain and one of the heroes of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) triumph, Eric Tinkler, appealed to South African soccer fans to get solidly behind Bafana when they host Nigeria in an all-or-nothing Afcon qualifier in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

Said Tinkler, who played 48 times for Bafana and captained his country at the 2002 Afcon finals in Mali: ”There is no question that, given our current form, Bafana go in as underdogs. We could not have asked for a tougher game at this crucial stage than Nigeria. But nothing is impossible.”

Tinkler’s advice to Bafana? ”Play like you have never played and as if your lives depended on it. Go for broke and make us proud.”

He said that the key was Blackburn Rovers striker Benni McCarthy. Tinkler stressed that McCarthy is misunderstood by most people, especially the fans.

But McCarthy is nursing a groin injury and is a doubtful starter.

”Benni and other overseas based player are under pressure from their clubs not to play for their country. It puts players under incredible pressure. I have a lot of sympathy for McCarthy as I experienced similar problems in my playing career,” Tinkler said.

He said McCarthy is the best player in the Bafana set-up: ”He plays at the highest level in England. Even if he is on the bench at Rovers he is better than anything else we have in attack at present. I hope his injury is not serious.”

Tinkler, who played for his country from 1994 to 2002, was one of the best defensive midfielders South Africa has produced in the modern era.

After a successful playing career in Italy with Cagliari, in Portugal with Vitoria Setubal and with Barnsley in England, Tinkler has returned home to further his coaching career and is assistant to BidVest Wits head coach Roger de Sa.

Tinkler supported the decision by the South Africa Football Association to play the game at the so-called ”cabbage patch” at the EPRU Stadium.

Explained Tinkler: ”It was a good idea to take the game to Port Elizabeth. If it was played in Gauteng, Nigeria would have had massive support from Nigerians living here. Also, the pitch will work in Bafana’s favour. It will be the leveller.

”The gloves are off and we must use every bit of home ground to our advantage, and playing in Port Elizabeth is to our advantage.”

Bafana have to win if they are to stand any chance of reaching the final qualifying stage for the 2010 continental showpiece to be staged in Angola.

But, stressed Tinkler: ”To win Bafana players will have to play out of their skins and rise above expectations.”

He said that Nigeria would not make it easy: ”They have already won the group but show they mean business by bringing a top-class side. Nigeria showed their potential when their under-23 side got to the final at the Olympic Games.

”We, on the other hand, have gone backwards because we have little or no development at grassroots level. All the major soccer powers are successful because of their youth sides. Most top players come through the development ranks at Nigeria, France, Italy and Portugal.

”It is no fluke these countries win tournaments. It is because they invest in youth.”

But he said that it was not all doom and gloom and that he has been impressed by a number of the new generation of Bafana players who are starting to make their mark on the international stage.

”I have been impressed by defenders Bryce Moon and Tsepo Masilela, who both have bright futures. I also like Bevan Fransman [central defender] and I was also happy that Matthew Booth has been given another chance after being out in the cold for a couple of years. Booth plays in the tough Russian First Division. To make it there a player has to be top class, as Booth is.”

Tinkler said he was also impressed by the way Bafana played in their 2-2 draw against Australia in a friendly in London last month.

But he cautioned: ”To be honest, I did not recognise too many faces in the Australian side, but it was a good result and showed that we can compete. We need to produce another even better 90 minutes on Saturday.” — Sapa