Gordon Igesund will get his first chance to test his mettle as South Africa’s national soccer coach when Bafana Bafana plays Brazil in a friendly in Sao Paulo next week. He’s saying all the sweetest words to the press, but it will be the results that do the talking in the end, writes ANT SIMS.
South Africa will play Brazil in a once-off friendly in Sao Paulo next week, and will face Mozambique in Nelspruit the week thereafter. It’s an exciting time for coach Gordon Igesund, who had the chance to name his first squad – since being appointed head coach – on Thursday.
He has some tough expectations resting on him, with the South African Football Association expecting Bafana Bafana to at least go as far as the semi-finals of the 2013 African Cup of Nations tournament and qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He has his first chance to test the waters in the friendly against Brazil, and Igesund seems to be focusing heavily on ensuring only those performing at club level get to the national team.
“I have spoken to coaches and told them that for a player to be selected in the national team, he has to be performing for his club. If a player is not doing what he can at club level, why must we assume he can do it for the national team?” said Igesund.
“If a club reports [that] a player is ill-disciplined or not training properly and the national team calls up the player, it is a big problem. All the players that we select – before we do, we will sit down with their coaches, they can say these three or four from my club, they are on top of their game and very fit.”
Moeneeb Josephs, who retired from international soccer a while back, has been included in Igesund’s squad, and the coach insists that the choice to withdraw his retirement was solely up to the goalkeeper himself.
“He has told me now he would like to compete, he doesn’t mind if he’s number one, two or three. He has written a letter withdrawing his retirement and saying he would love to be fighting for a place in the national team,” Igesund said.
Igesund has his work cut out for him. The national soccer team has a reputation for being a group of prima donnas, and they’ve struggled to gel as a unit for the past few years, struggling in the final third and with a sense of entitlement in playing for the team. Igesund seems intent on changing that, and hammered home that no player was sure of a place. Tactics are almost certain to change under Igesund’s guidance, and while it usually takes a while for sides to adjust to new formations, the coach is confident that it will take just a little spark to reignite confidence in the players who have for so long struggled to fulfil their potential.
“We want to play the game the way it should be played. We will try to play an attacking brand of football, play with players going wide and restore the confidence in our players. I believe we have players as good as any in the world, and we need to start believing in ourselves. I believe we have a very strong team that can go out, and when they pull the jersey on, say to themselves they want to stay in the team and continue playing for this team,” said the coach.
“I think the team is hugely different (from Pitso Mosimane's). It’s a totally different tactical approach. We have four wingers, players in different situations, the team is different… because we wanted to play a different system,” Igesund added.
Playing Brazil is never an easy task, although South Africa did mange an impressive performance against the five-time world champions in 2009 during the Confederations Cup on home soil when they lost 0-1 in the semi-final. Igesund believes the key to coming away with a positive result is to think positively. The side won’t be quite as well prepared as they’d like to be – Bafana Bafana’s first training session before the match is just three days before kick-off in Sao Paulo, but the coach insists the team must focus on the positives.
“I know we are playing the five-time world champions, but I also don’t think we should be intimidated. We are not inferior. We must not be negative; we must turn everything into a positive and work towards finding a solution,” Igesund said.
Igesund gave a long and impressive press conference when he named his 25-man squad for the two matches. The side will play in a 4-3-3 formation which could morph into 4-5-1 when Bafana is not in possession. Steven Pineaar will captain the side – something which Igesund has hinted could change in future.
When he speaks, Igesund is saying all the right words, and he is doing a good job at convincing everybody that he has a real vision for the future of the national team. As a leader, he is close to flawless, but coaching a side like Bafana Bafana is often thankless and callous. He might be talking the talk, and he’s managing to court even the non-believers. The challenge he faces against Brazil will be a tough one, and even a minor slip-up will have critics crawling out of the woodwork with calls to the coach to the gallows. Transition periods in sport can take time; it’s just a pity Igesund doesn’t really have much of it to work with.
Goalkeepers: Wayne Sandilands, Moeneeb Josephs, Itumeleng Khune
Defenders: Siyabonga Sangweni, Bevan Fransman, Bongani Khumalo, Erick Mathoho, Anele Ngcongca, Punch Masenamela, Thabo Matlaba
Midfielders: Kamohelo Makotjo, Kgosi Ntlhe, Steven Pienaar, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Thulani Serero, Katlego Mashego (Free State Stars), Dean Furman (Oldham Athletic), Kagisho Dikgacoi
Strikers: May Mahlangu, Bernard Parker, Lerato Chabangu, Siyabonga Nomvete, Dino Ndlovu, Thamsanqa Gabuza DM
Photo: SAFA (South African football association) president Kirsten Nematandani (L) congratulates Gordon Igesund, the new head coach of the South African national soccer team after the announcement in Johannesburg, June 30, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)