Igesund: Afcon gold would define my career

He was even confident enough to mention, in passing, the possibility of winning the Africa Nations Cup.

Asked if reaching the quarterfinals would represent a personal triumph, he said only gold on February 10 would meet that definition. "You only get recognised by winning things. We have to guard against complacency. We haven't achieved anything yet. We haven't conceded a goal and we've won our first game. After the Morocco game we will know where we are."

Even after the tremendous lift of the victory over Angola, which has transformed the mood in the Bafana camp, nobody can escape the gruelling tension of this campaign. Bafana's quarterfinal place has not yet been captured, and the coach has a tricky selection puzzle to solve before tonight's critical collision with Morocco.

With Tokelo Rantie in doubt due to an ankle injury, and Lehlohonolo Majoro all but ruled out due to a gashed shin, Igesund cannot reprise the starting lineup he deployed so successfully against Angola. The first move would be to play Bernard Parker as a second striker in tandem with Katlego Mphela.

That leaves a vacancy out on the left of Bafana's attack. Should Siphiwe Tshabalala, so frustratingly ineffective in recent games, be recalled on the left wing? Or should he gamble on the young and enigmatic Thulani Serero, who has scintillating skill and speed but still looks unfit and has a tendency to get lost in the fray?

And in central midfield, should he opt for the pace and drive of May Mahlangu, or the superior defensive quality and passing range of Reneilwe Letsholonyane?

Igesund was typically cagey on both dilemmas. "You've got to apply your mind to a lot of different situations, but I don't think we should change too much," he said. "I'm hoping they come at us tomorrow, and won't have 10 players behind the ball. If they take risks, we must be prepared to capitalise. We are going to see what they can do. But if they don't come at us, that's also fine. Whatever they've got to do, they've got to do."

A fitness call will be made on Rantie today: "He had treatment overnight, and had lots of ice on it. So we'll see how he is." Igesund hinted that Majoro could be an emergency selection, after all. "Majoro is definitely out — but if we really had to risk it, we could do something."

If an essential part of the art of Nations Cup coaching is secrecy, then Igesund is a very promising student. Tonight's thrilling exam will reveal his grasp of the crucial art of improvisation.

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Carlos Amato
Carlos Amato is an editorial cartoonist, writer and illustrator living in Johannesburg, with a focus on sport, culture and politics. He has degrees in literature and animation, used to edit the ‘Sunday Times Lifestyle’ magazine and is the author of ‘Wayde van Niekerk: Road to Glory’ (Jonathan Ball, 2018).

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