Bafana kicks into high gear as Afcon nears
South Africa has just two friendlies left to play before the Africa Cup of Nations comes rolling into town, and coach Gordon Igesund is bullish about the upcoming two months and the way the team is growing. By ANT SIMS.
Patience is a word Gordon Igesund has often used since taking over as Bafana Bafana coach. Patience with him, patience with the team, patience with the way he is building the squad and patience with the national side’s performances and results.
They’re now just two games away from the African Cup of Nations kicking off, and the coach says that the time has finally come where he expects his players to perform.
“We have to keep looking at the big picture. What’s the point of, for instance, beating a side like Brazil and being knocked out of Afcon? The big picture for us is Afcon,” Igesund said ahead of Bafana Bafana’s friendly against Norway on Tuesday in Cape Town.
“I have now reached the stage where I am expecting things from the squad. We’ve had some fantastic training sessions and players are starting to understand each other much better. The movement of players is much better,” the coach added.
The side last played on 22 December, a friendly against Malawi, which they won 3-1. Their results over the last few months haven't been entirely convincing, and they have struggled in some areas of the game, especially the final third. The coach, however, was bullish about his side’s approach to the game against Norway and particularly passionate about getting the backing of the public.
“We are going to go forward and play with pace and flair. We’re going to play with good commitment and I’m hoping things will get better as we go along. I also think we have come a long way in the last week of training than any time since I’ve been with this side,” Igesund said.
“We want the crowd to believe in the team and we know what if we can get everybody passionately supporting the side it will make a big impact. We have to produce the results for that to happen, though. I don’t think everybody realises just how much the support lifts the side,” the Durbanite added.
Igesund has also previously said that he wants the focus in the build-up to be against African opposition, but when he took over, he inherited friendlies along with the team. The coach reckons that the friendly against Norway is a blessing in disguise.
South Africa was drawn against Morocco, Angola and Cape Verde. Igesund feels these sides play their football in a very European way and that Bafana Bafana could certainly benefit from the experience of playing against a side like Norway.
“Morocco and Cape Verde play very European type of football. Almost 90% of Cape Verde’s squad plays somewhere in Europe and I’ve watched tapes and tapes of these teams and it’s actually surprising how similar they are to the European style. It’s actually going to be a good test for us,” Igesund said.
While the lead-up to Afcon will be swift, and while Igesund will have little time to decide on which eleven players he wants to put on the field when Bafana’s first match kicks off, the coach says that he wants to maintain the element of surprise and the side to face Norway might not be exactly the same as the team to play Cape Verde on 19 January.
“I’m definitely not experimenting with the side, but I don’t want to show my hand too early ahead of Afcon. I will be trying a couple of combinations, but I know that Cape Verde will be watching our sessions and they will have analysts here and their coaches will be watching on TV. We want to keep some surprises up our sleeves for the tournament,” Igesund added.
The coach was in good spirits on Monday and insisted that the match against Norway was an important part of his master plan – a plan which is slowly but surely coming together ahead of the continental showpiece.
Winning the match will be a big morale boost for Bafana, as they have just one match left – a friendly against Algeria – before the start of Afcon. The expectations are certainly high and the one thing which Igesund does seem intent on is helping Bafana find their identity. If Igesund’s passion and love for the game can infiltrate and captivate the imaginations of the national side, The Boys might yet become men under the magician. DM
Photo: South Africa's soccer coach Gordon Igesund gestures during their Nelson Mandela Challenge soccer match against Zambia at Soccer city stadium outside Soweto, November 14 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko