SA face Ireland on World Cup learning curve

Aaron Mokoena believes South Africa will continue their learning process when they play Ireland in Limerick on Tuesday.

Following their 2-0 defeat to Germany in Leverkusen on Saturday, Bafana Bafana now tackle Ireland at Munster’s famous Thomond Park, a stadium renowned more for its rugby pedigree than soccer.

Mokoena believes the pace and intensity of Ireland’s British-based players will provide a new challenge for his teammates as they continue their preparation for the World Cup next summer.

“We had a really a good game against Germany, they are a very experienced team and of course, they’ve been playing at the top level a long, long time,” said Mokoena, who will hope to add to his record 92 caps on Tuesday.

“It’s great to have that competition and it showed us that when we have the ball we can not afford to lose it easily when playing against these teams.

“The reason we’re playing these teams is that they have something we can learn from and Ireland are one of those teams we can really gain something from.

“Germany and Ireland provide two different styles of football, the Irish play like English players—they are tough, strong players, players who you have to get in contact with.

“Most of them play in the English leagues where the tempo of the game is very high. So that is what we will need to match.”

As a player with over four years Premier League experience, Mokoena knows just what is required to play against that type of player and indeed, has faced most of Ireland’s players over the years with either Blackburn or his current club Portsmouth.

But as part of a South Africa squad where players are selected from eight leagues scattered throughout the world, things are a little more complex for national coach Joel Santana.

“It is tough sometimes but the fact is this team has had almost a year together now and we know each other, especially since the Confederations Cup,” said the South Africa captain.

While Saturday’s opponents Germany are in pole position in their group to seal a place at the World Cup, Ireland’s hopes are still in the balance despite a vital 2-1 victory in Cyprus.

One point behind Italy in Group Eight, with the Italians holding one game in hand—to be played against Bulgaria on Wednesday, things are delicately poised for veteran coach Giovanni Trapattoni, whose side are currently ranked 38 in the world.

Like South Africa, Ireland last competed at a World Cup in 2002.

Trapattoni will take the opportunity to change his team around on Tuesday, having allowed senior players Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne, Shay Given and Kevin Kilbane to return to their families after the hard fought win in Cyprus.

Caleb Folan, Andy Keogh, Liam Lawrence, Keiren Westwood and Darren O’Dea are all in the hunt to start, with Damien Duff likely to skipper the side in Keane’s absence. - AFPSA


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