South Africa managed to make it through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations and they’ll meet Mali at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday. Now that the pressure of the group stages has come and gone, the team believes it can make it all the way to the final. By ANT SIMS.
Bafana Bafana just can’t do things the easy way. After a dreary opening affair against Cape Verde, they cruised through their second match against Angola, but almost came undone against a rather feisty Moroccan outfit in their final game.
In an up and down affair, which left fans on the edge of their seats for most of the second half, Bafana Bafana salved a draw - scoring twice to draw the match 2-2 as their goal drought came to an end.
It was a tense match, and coach Gordon Igesund was delighted with the fight his team put up.
“I think we were brave. We went out with a very attacking formation against a team that had nothing to lose. I knew we were going to score goals and I’m proud of the fighting spirit we showed,” said Igesund.
Bafana’s defending was rather woeful, though, and the coach admitted that his side’s defensive frailties were a worry. He will work on this when they resume training on Tuesday ahead of their quarter-final clash against Mali on Saturday.
“Morocco is a tough team and we conceded two goals that we shouldn’t have conceded,” Igesund said. “I was really disappointed with that and will try and rectify those things when we get back on the training field on Tuesday. But in saying that, I thought the team played very well against good opposition.”
May Mahlangu was one of Bafana Bafana’s star performers on Sunday night, and the coach had nothing but praise for him.
“I thought he had a very good game. I knew it would be the type of game that would suit him.
"He’s the type of player that carries the ball forward. He runs with the ball instead of standing with it and passing, and that’s why we obviously wanted him in there - he eliminates players and creates extra space, so I thought he had a fantastic game and he scored a fantastic goal.”
There has been lots of talk about recreating the magic of 1996, when South Africa won and hosted the tournament - and Igesund is bullish about his side’s prospects. He reckons all it will take is faith.
“The question is: do you believe it’s possible?” he said, when asked whether he thought they could win the continental spectacle.
“I’ve said it from day one: of course I believe. I always have, even when we stood as lone rangers. We always said, 'Why not?'
“We just needed to get the momentum going, as I’ve said in the past, and we need a bit of luck. We’re now two games away from the final and we’ll continue to believe.”
With the knockout rounds just a few days away, striker Bernard Parker believes that the pressure is gone and the team will be able to play with much more freedom towards the business end of the tournament. He reiterated the coach’s sentiments.
“The stressful part was the group stages, and getting through now has sort of eased that tension a bit. Now that we're into the knockout stages anything is possible,” said Parker.
“We can make even better things possible for ourselves by building on the performances of tonight (Sunday) and the match before this. I'm sure we'll get stronger.”
Parker has started in every game so far and, just like his coach, believes that Bafana Bafana can make it all the way to the final. He believes that the fight shown against Morocco proves they have come together as a team.
“It was our main aim to get through the group stage and we’re delighted to have done that," Parker said.
"We showed a lot of character, we fought, we never gave up - and that shows we’re a team. We’re together as a unit and we hope to take this spirit into the next game and all the way through to the final. I know we can make it.”
Moses Mabhida has been a happy hunting ground for the team, and the support from the public has been superb. Parker believes the 50,000-strong crowd that was present on Sunday night added something extra special to the occasion.
“The crowd played their part brilliantly,” he said.
“The Mexican wave - you could feel it - they were giving us the energy to put in the extra effort, which was great." DM
Photo: South Africa's coach Gordon Igesund reacts during their African Nations Cup Group A match against Morocco in Durban January 27, 2013. REUTERS/Rogan Ward