/ 11 November 2011

Pressure on Bafana to start delivering

The one man who expressed a desire to attend the Nelson Mandela Challenge and who in the past paid his own airfare to visit Madiba will be missing when Côte d’Ivoire face Bafana Bafana in the challenge match in honour of the world icon in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

Didier Drogba was withdrawn from the squad that touched down at Oliver Tambo International airport for the annual gumba but such is his aura and individual achievements that he was this week included in a preliminary list of nominees for the 2011 African Footballer of the Year.

No doubt coach Pitso Mosimane needed a test of strength for Bafana Bafana — and they do not come much bigger and stronger than Côte d’Ivoire — to appease Bafana’s disgruntled followers after the disastrous, if not embarrassing, debacle during the final 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Sierra Leone in Mbombela.

“I have a much stronger team than during our two African Nations Cup qualifiers,” Mosimane said. “We are also going to change our approach for this game.” He hinted that Bafana would be going for an all-out attack after conservative and cautious performances in previous games.

Steven Pienaar is back to rally his troops and so is Kagisho Dikgacoi, who will shore up the midfield, after both missed the matches against Sierra Leone and Niger, and their presence has given Mosimane confidence that he can stop the marauding Elephants in their tracks.

But when one considers players such as Yaya Toure, Gervinho and Didier Ya Konan, and with the new kid on the block, Seydou Doumbia (top goalscorer in the European Champions League), likely to assume the central striking role in the absence of Drogba, it seems as though Bafana have a mountain to climb.

But despite their pedigree and individual achievements, Côte d’Ivoire’s national team remains one of Africa’s underachievers and has won the African Nations Cup only once in the 54-year history of the continent’s premier national tournament.

Despite their top billing at the 2010 Fifa World Cup where, of Africa’s representatives, they were expected to progress the furthest, they plodded along pitifully and flopped miserably, failing to advance to the next round of the tournament.

To Bafana’s credit, they have met the Elephants on four previous occasions, sharing the spoils in three clashes and winning the fourth 2-1.

But, although the odds seem heavily in favour of Bafana Bafana, a loss could also increase the pressure on Mosimane and his boys to start delivering now that they are building a new team and entering a new era.