Ch-ch-changes: Igesund tweaking the squad ahead of World Cup qualifier

By Ant Sims 7 March 2013

Bafana Bafana drew their first two qualifying matches, and will now have to change gears if they want to be contenders in the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil. It’s a tough task for Gordon Igesund and his men, and the coach says there will be some changes to the squad for the upcoming one-off match against the Central African Republic. By ANT SIMS.

After a disappointing campaign in the Africa Cup of Nations a little over a month ago, South Africa now faces another challenge: securing qualification for the next soccer World Cup to be held in Brazil in 2014.

Bafana Bafana stuttered through to the quarter-finals of Afcon, where they eventually crashed out to Mali on penalties. At the time, coach Gordon Igesund urged everybody to stay patient with the team.

Stay patient people did, but only for long enough to watch the national side fizzle out in dire fashion through one of the worst penalty shootouts in recent memory. Now, the coach insists there will have to be some changes when his side resumes its qualifying campaign against the Central African Republic in Cape Town on 23 March.

They have already played two of their group matches – drawing both – and are currently third in Group A with two points. This places them two places behind leaders Ethiopia, and one behind second-placed CAR. Botswana is scraping the bottom of the barrel with one point. 

The coach says he quite likes the luxury of being able to fine-tune the squad, since picking players for a one-off match allows him to focus more on what he needs for that match instead of the cover he might need overall.

“There will be a couple of changes. When you pick a team for a tournament, you have to cover all your bases,” Igesund said.

“But picking a team for a once-off match, you can have luxury in certain departments, like I don’t need too much cover in defence. During Afcon I had two players for every position, and unfortunately I can only make three substitutions, so it is pointless to have six players as cover. The team will be a lot more offensive.”

Igesund will be in charge of his first qualifying match since he took charge of the side last year, and  said that his players were still on a high after Afcon, despite their dismal display. He hopes that the team will be able to build on the momentum from the tournament.

“The players are on a high at the moment and we need to continue from where we left off. The vibe around this team is very positive and I want to maintain that spirit. We lost to Mali on penalties, and I can safely say we ended the tournament unbeaten in 90 minutes in four matches,” Igesund said.

Igesund added that he was pleased with the way his side handled themselves, but that there were some areas which needed attention, especially considering South Africa is not in the best of places for the World Cup qualifiers.

“Having said that, I think the players have learnt a lot from this tournament, and I think in the short space of time we had, the players adapted very well. I am thrilled with the way they responded, but also there are a few areas that we need to fix.”

After drawing to both Ethiopia and Botswana last year, the national team faces a tough task if they wish to book their spot in the World Cup. Igesund admits that the challenge will be tough.

“We are not in a good position in the qualifiers. We have played two games and are sitting on two points when we should have more than that.

“We have dropped four huge points and are left with four games, so we are basically playing catch-up. We are in a situation where we almost have to win every game.

“We are starting from the bottom in respect of points that we should have gained. If we had one win and a draw it would have made a huge difference.

“We also understand that qualifying for the World Cup is huge for us, and if we had those extra points it would be a different story, so we can’t afford to lose – that is the bottom line.”

Part of Igesund’s mandate when he first signed on as coach was to take the side to at least the semi-finals of Afcon and to get them to qualify for the World Cup. He failed to achieve the mandate set out for him in Afcon, but Safa was bullish after the country’s showing in the continental showpiece.

“There are no negative implications whatsoever for the coach. In fact, I think Gordon has shown he is a man capable of taking over the future of South African football. Safa believes he is capable of changing the team’s fortunes, so Safa is 100% behind him. I think he has shown the team is heading in the right direction,” Safa head of communications Dominic Chimhavi said after South Africa went crashing out of the tournament.

Safa’s hire and fire culture has been enough to put to shame some of the sugar daddy clubs in the English Premier League, but maybe, just maybe they have found somebody they are willing to stick with for in the long term. Even if that means sacrificing their pie-in-the-sky mandate. DM

Photo: Gordon Igesund (Reuters)


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