Gordon Igesund has named a 24-man squad for South Africa’s clash against Zambia next week, and while there are no superstars in the side, the coach insists it’s group of players who’ll go the extra mile for each other and show Zambia – in no uncertain terms – what commitment is. By ANT SIMS.
South African soccer coach Gordon Igesund has chosen his men ahead of Bafana Bafana’s match at the Nelson Mandela Challenge in Nasrec on Monday, and he seems confident enough in his selection capabilities that he’s given thought to the future as well. Apparently he’s almost decided on who will be at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) next year.
“We've played four games and I've really had a good look at a pool of players,” says Igesund. “I've probably got about 75 to 80% of the team."
As for the side that will be playing Zambia, however, there were no real surprises. Igesund has faith in his selection and believes they have what it takes to compete against the best, adding that the teams who do the best are those who are the most motivated.
“What wins things from my experience is having a team that respect each other, love and fight for each other," he says. "It's not always the best team that wins, but the team that really wants it the most.
“We need to work hard and that's very important. We've got no superstars in our team, but nothing is impossible."
Igesund was appointed coach of the South African national team in July, with a heavy mandate to boot. He is expected to take the team to the semi-finals of the AFCON competition – which will be staged in South Africa – and to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Igesund, however, has had a pretty balanced run since taking over: the team has won two and lost two of the games with Igesund at the helm.
While the coach says he would have loved to have his complete squad ready and training at least a month before the tournament kicked off, this level of preparation was not really possible owing to club commitments.
“I'd love to have the team for six weeks and train with them every morning, but I'm not going to have that, so I'm not going to complain about that," he says.
“It would be wonderful if I could get the entire squad three weeks before the Africa Cup of Nations – that would be great.
“We've played four really good games in my time with the team and I'm positive about the future.”
Igesund travelled to England on Monday to meet with some club managers in order to discuss the availability of some of South Africa's overseas-based players. He will also be meeting with Steven Pienaar, who last month retired from international football. The coach, however, insists that his meeting with the midfielder will simply be a greeting over coffee and not an attempt to bring him out of retirement.
“It's very important to negotiate with the managers and to build a relationship. I'll be seeing Davide Somma and a few other players,” he says.
"I'm not going there to talk Steven out of anything. I'm going there to have a coffee. For me, Steven Pienaar was a great ambassador for our country. He is one of our own, and a great player. I think I owe it to him to go and have a chat with him.
“I think Steven had to make a very tough decision, but I haven't shut the door on him, so who knows where the conversation will go?”
Bafana Bafana have their work cut out in the match against Zambia, though. They have struggled in the final third – a problem that has been the bane of their existence for some time now.
While the team does create plenty of chances going forward, they have failed to convert far too often. Another concern is defence, with the side largely relying on the goalkeeping prowess of Itumeleng Khune to keep them out of trouble.
For Igesund, though, it’s all part of the foundation of building a squad and moving forward. Whether a foundation set in the odd defeat is good enough to erect an empire, and whether he does indeed have the magic touch, only time will tell.
Bafana Bafana squad:
Itumeleng Khune, Darren Keet, Anele Ngcongca, Siyabonga Sangweni, Bongani Khumalo (captain), Bevan Fransman, Ricardo Nunes, Punch Masenamela, Thabo Nthethe, Dean Furman, Thanduyise Khuboni, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Lerato Chabangu, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Teko Modise, Oupa Manyisa, Thuso Phala, Sifiso Myeni, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Delron Buckley, Bernard Parker, Katlego Mashego, Tokelo Rantie, Kermit Erasmus. DM
Photo: Gordon Igesund (Reuters)