On the eve of Bafana Bafana’s friendly match against Kenya (who stepped in as late replacements for original opponents Burkina Faso) on Wednesday, Egypt tumbled 23 places down the latest Fifa rankings while Bafana Bafana jumped from 51 to a respectable 47.
It can be interpreted as a stroke of good fortune and a sign that Bafana Bafana has nothing to fear from defending African champions Egypt when they meet in a make-or-break Africa Nations Cup qualifier in Johannesburg on March 25, but national coach Pitso Mosimane believes otherwise.
The United States called off their friendly game against Egypt in Cairo next Wednesday as violent political protests against the rule of Hosni Mubarak intensified.
The US claimed they feared for their safety, but it will be a huge blow to the Egyptians who are lying at the bottom of the qualifying group for Gabon 2012, in which South Africa are on top.
Mosimane went to Cairo during December and watched Egypt confidently marching to the finals of the Nile Cup, which they hosted, and to which seven other countries had been invited. Egypt thrashed Uganda 3-1 to lift the trophy.
But they were changing the team, Mosimane said. “Hassan Shehata is introducing a younger generation who he wants to take over from veterans like Mohamed Aboutrika and they looked very impressive,” he said.
Hopes pinned on two strikers
Mosimane, shortly before he announced his squad to face Kenya in their final preparatory match before facing Egypt, received a huge boost when the Premier Soccer League agreed to shuffle their fixtures to let him have at least two weeks to prepare for the clash.
He submitted a proposal to the PSL last year but signals from Parktown indicated that he was unlikely to be granted his wish. He threw his hands in the air and warned that people should not be surprised if Egypt came here and looked the sharper side — because they had been preparing and he had been denied an opportunity to knock his troops into shape.
He is keeping his fingers crossed over two midfielders — he will be hoping that Macbeth Sibaya (unattached) will find a club soon and improve his match fitness, as will Kagisho Dikgacoi, who has been warming the bench at Fulham for so long that jokes abound in Cottage Road that he is now the judge.
Katlego Mphela, Mosimane’s lead striker, has gone on strike at Mamelodi Sundowns, which will not make things easier for the national coach. He will be hoping that the impasse will be broken soon and that Mphela will return to play and be in top shape when the Pharaohs hit town next month.