/ 16 June 2009

Pressure on Bafana ahead of New Zealand clash

The City of Rustenburg hosts its biggest football match when Bafana Bafana face New Zealand in a winner-takes-all Confederations Cup clash at Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Wednesday evening.

A loss for either side would end any hopes of progressing to the semifinals.

Joel Santana’s charges made life difficult for themselves when they played out a lacklustre 0-0 stalemate against Asian champions Iraq in their opening match on Sunday. The All Whites are in an even more precarious position with no point following their 5-0 loss to rampant European champions Spain on the same day.

Bafana cannot afford a draw, even with their single point, because they meet Spain in their final group match, while the All Whites take on Iraq in a game that could go either away. Santana blamed jittery nerves for the poor performance in the opening match and he will be hoping that the seasoned players in his team come to the party against the lowest-ranked side in this tournament.

Leaving Everton star Steven Pienaar out of the opening match until the last five minutes backfired, as much as fielding three defensive midfielders. Santana needs to change his tactics and personnel. Adding to the must-win pressure of the New Zealand game for Bafana is the fact that tournament favourites Spain are just two games shy of a world-record unbeaten streak, and are likely to continue their destructive form against Iraq and South Africa.

All Whites coach Ricki Herbert also concedes that the pressure is on the hosts to pick up full points when they can.

”They [South Africa] will be desperate to win after an unexpected draw against Iraq,” he said. ”The longer the game goes at 0-0, the more the pressure builds. I think you saw that the other night [Sunday] when they changed shape and went with three at the back, pushed fullbacks forward, with the crowd wanting Steven Pienaar on the pitch. Against New Zealand that pressure will create mayhem for them.”

He underlined the importance of his side capitalising on this pressure in the do-or-die Rustenburg showdown as they hunt for their first point in three Confederations Cup appearances. ”If we get a result against South Africa then it’s going to go down to the last game, irrespective of whether we win or draw the game, so [still having a chance to qualify in the last game] will be a bit of history in itself,” Herbert said.

According to Kiwi media and communications manager Jamie Scott, the All Whites have picked themselves up after Sunday’s defeat to Spain, with the team focused on preparations ahead of the Bafana clash. ”Herbert is considering changes to his starting 11, but is keeping mum on his plans while he assesses all the candidates at training, with the only injury concern being fullback Aaron Scott, who picked up a slight knock on Monday,” said Scott.