Bafana kick off manic week as Ntseki continues to forge identity

 

 

Bafana Bafana have one hell of a week ahead of them. Two Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers (Afcon); extensive travel and annoying niggles have stirred up a funky tasting cocktail that Molefi Ntseki has been forced to chug down.

Yet, the coach himself doesn’t seem all that fazed about the situation. He offered an optimistic — albeit cautious — front on Monday morning, urging both the public and his players to trust in his process. South Africa play two Afcon qualifiers over the space of three days and relative success will set him up nicely for the long term.

“[We’ve told our players] we have a plan. Having a plan means we have to achieve something,” Ntseki said on Monday, cautioning against dwelling too long on the pleasant Egypt hangover. “We can’t always be referring back to what happened in the past. If Tyson [Thulani Hlatshwayo] has to retire in the last two years, or Dean Furman has to retire, they should do so saying ‘I have achieved’.

“Now, it is important that we qualify for Afcon. What is important is to qualify for the World Cup. Going into Afcon anything is possible. If we do things right, if we get the support that we need, if we get the luck we need, we will be able to conquer Africa.”

Ntseki was speaking from the Crowne Plaza hotel in Rosebank where the squad had trickled in over the past 24 hours. From there, the team would have a brief recomposition session at Sturrock Park before heading back and travelling to the airport. Arriving in Accra, Ghana, the next day, it’s straight onto a bus to travel to the Gold Coast.

All that travel means there will likely be time for only one full training session ahead of each game. Not ideal for a coach who so far has had only one friendly to test drive his ideas.

Still, Ntseki spoke assuredly of his squad’s form heading into the international break. Overseas, Kamohelo Mokotjo and Lebo Mothiba netted recently for their respective clubs while Bongani Zungu has notched up some vital minutes. Locally, he talked up the duel Hlatshwayo and Bradley Grobler enjoyed — joking that he was relieved they didn’t kill one another — and had special praise reserved for Lebogang Manyama’s versatility in the Soweto Derby.

The Kaizer Chiefs midfielder became a last minute addition after the injured Themba Zwane was forced to pull out. With Thamsanqa Mkhize also carrying a niggle, the coach hinted that Hlatshwayo could be asked to fill in at right back.

Ghana are a difficult team to beat under the best circumstances and Ntseki made no attempt to disprove the assumption that he would not be distraught over a draw.

“We have a point as we speak. It’s up to us to protect that point,” he declared. “Maybe during moments of the game we can take advantage and maybe win this match. We’re not going to go out there like we did against Mali and pull out all the guns. We have to be very careful.

“Starting on the front foot can get us a goal early and unsettle Ghana, but at the same time if you give Ghana too much possession they can easily hurt you. One has to be very cautious in going into this match. That’s why we’re talking about players with experience; players that have been here before.”

That attitude, however, does not extend to the second match, against Sudan at Orlando Stadium. From that one, he unequivocally made clear, he expects no less than three points from his players.

Four points looks to be the target then from these early qualifiers – a number no one can really begrudge. We’re not yet at the crucial rounds but then maybe we can get the job done before they arrive? Tunisia in March was great for all concerned but maybe we could go one better by not burning out our nerves this time.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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