Pitso Mosimane has so far managed to build on the relative success of the Fifa World Cup since he replaced Carlos Parreira as Bafana Bafana head coach. In his first match in charge the former assistant coach to the national team emerged with a 1-0 victory over Fifa World Cup quarter finalists Ghana in a friendly match at Soccer City last month.
But nobody knows better than Mosimane that the real test begins this weekend at Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium.
Bafana Bafana kick off their 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign against Group G minnows Niger. With defending Africa champions Egypt and Sierra Leone next in line, pressure is on the new coach to guide his charges to a winning start.
The South African Football Association has already made it clear to Mosimane that failure to qualify for the Nations Cup will cost him his job. Even Mosimane has said that his four-year contract could be short lived if he misses out on leading Bafana to the 2012 Afcon finals to be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. It is a major shift from the comforts enjoyed by Joel Santana in his tenure as Bafana coach. As the football world watched the progress of the first African country in hosting the Fifa World Cup, Bafana Bafana, embarrassingly, did not make it to Angola early this year.
With South African football in a shameful position, then-Safa chief executive Raymond Hack rather shockingly pronounced the failure to qualify for Angola 2010 as a “blessing in disguise”. Now that Hack and his justification of poor results are history, Mosimane is out to safeguard his position with a convincing victory against the group’s weakest team.
Ranked 145, about 79 places below Bafana, Niger have never qualified for the Fifa World Cup or Africa Cup of Nations. This alone has spurred Bafana to target the West Africans in their bid to build a healthy goal aggregate before the more taxing fixtures ahead.
“It is very important that we not only win, but beat Niger well by scoring a lot of goals,” said Tsepo Masilela. The Bafana left back also emphasised the need for the team to build on the fine run enjoyed at the Fifa World Cup. “After playing in the World Cup, it is important that we qualify. I am happy to say that our preparation has been good. Though we don’t know much about Niger, I am sure that if we approach the game in the same way we did against France and Ghana, our goal of a good result will be achieved,” he said.
Mosimane has opted to retain the bulk of the squad that represented the country at the Fifa World Cup, including seasoned campaigners such as captain Aaron Mokoena and Macbeth Sibaya. However, to his credit, the former SuperSport coach has improved the solid defence Parreira left behind by adding more fire power upfront. The Brazilian preferred to have Katlego Mphela as the lone striker for most of his matches. Mosimane has brought in a partner for the Mamelodi Sundowns hit man, which should create more scoring opportunities.
Holland-based Bernard Parker appears to be the likely candidate for a starting place alongside Mphela upfront. S’thembiso Ngcobo is expected to come off the bench ahead of Kermit Erasmus in the later stages of the game as a possible replacement should the goals prove elusive.
Even with the addition of more fire power, the midfield remains Bafana’s strongest area, largely owing to the talents of Steven Pienaar. The Everton midfielder had a disappointing Fifa World Cup, but bounced back with a sterling performance against Ghana to remind everyone that he is at present Bafana’s best player.
Mosimane has tactfully given Pienaar free range in the middle of the park and it will not come as a surprise should he be among the goal scorers on Saturday.
Siphiwe Tshabalala, the scorer of that beautiful first goal of the Fifa World Cup, is another sure bet in the Bafana engine room, with Sibaya expected to perform a holding role after his great performance against Ghana.
Former Bafana favourite Teko Modise could be a surprise inclusion if he somehow makes the starting line up. The Orlando Pirates midfielder has been struggling with his game for many months.
If Mosimane throws caution to the wind, either Daine Klate or the hardworking Reneilwe Letsholonyane must complete the midfield.
However, in the unlikely event of the coach adopting defensive tactics, Thanduyise Khuboni would sneak
in ahead of Klate and Letsholonyane.
Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune will, once again, be the last line of defence. Shielding him will be captain Mokoena in central defence alongside SuperSport skipper Bongani Khumalo. While Masilela will retain his place in the left back, Anele Ngcongca seems to have replaced Siboniso Gaxa at right back. The Belgium-based player was a revelation in the past two big games for Bafana against France and Ghana. Even his club has since moved him from the midfield to the back.
It is this back row that will have the duty of dealing with the threat posed by Niger’s three most high-profile players — Bourdeux’s Ouwo Moussa Maazou, Kamilou Daouda of Libyan club Al Ittihad and Alhassane Dante Issoufou of RUS Rabat in Morocco.