Bafana eager to clip Eagles' wings

1 February 2013

Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium is sold out for Saturday's 2013 Africa Cup of Nations clash between hosts South Africa and Mali. After seeing their team top Group A, Bafana Bafana fans are optimistic about the side's chances of advancing to the quarterfinals.

The players themselves are more low-key about their chances, but coach Gordon Igesund clearly has their full confidence and support, and they believe they can win under him.

Their most recent match, a 2-2 draw with Morocco, saw Bafana twice come back from behind and display the kind of fighting character that had been missing for some time.

'Main objective'

"Being in the quarter-finals is never easy and it gets more difficult because everyone wants to be in the last four," Bafana captain Bongani Khumalo said earlier in the week.

"Regardless of who we would have come up against, our main objective is to proceed to the next round. Mali are a very useful side, but we are now motivated and we will give it our all."

Vice-captain and goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, the man of the match in the draw with Morocco, said he was looking forward to the challenge of facing the Eagles, who are ranked 25th in the world by Fifa.

'A great game'

"I think it's going to be a great game because Mali is a very good side. For us, we now have to take one gae at a time. We know it's not going to be easy and we cannot afford to take Mali lightly. They did well to get this far and they are a dangerous side, so we have to work harder to win the game and proceed to the next stage."

Khune said while the team is focused on its next match, it also has designs on matches beyond the last eight.

"We are done with the Morocco game and we now have to turn our focus to the quarter-finals, but at this moment we are hungry to achieve more. We now have a lot of confidence after coming out of the group stages, especially after the character we showed in the last game," he said.

Both Khumalo and Khune expressed their delight at being able to continue playing their matches in Durban, where South Africa has a good record. "Our supporters will work as the 12th player, as usual," said Khumalo.

'It's brilliant'

"It's brilliant, it also highlights the incredible support we have had and everybody wants to come and watch us whenever we play and that is just great," Khumalo said.

"We are very grateful for their support and hopefully they will give us the boost we need on Saturday. And playing in front a big crowd like the one we saw against Morocco is as a positive sign that we are doing something right, because in any case pressure is there in every game we play."

Safa spokesman Dominic Chimhavi said on Wednesday that coach Gordon Igesund's mandate is to make the Afcon semi-finals or qualify for the 2014 Fifa World Cup. "We are very positive he will achieve both mandates," Chimhavi reckoned.

Defender suspended

South Africa will be without defender Anele Ngcongca for the showdown with Mali. He has been suspended after being cautioned twice in the group stages.

"It's sad that I won't feature in this match because I was really looking forward to it, but then again it's part of the game," Ngcongca commented.

"It's a great pity that I won't be on field but watching from the stands. I am confident that whoever gets the chance to play in that position will do a magnificent job because we are all working on one mission - to proceed to the semi-finals and go all the way in the tournament."

Replacement

Siboniso Gaxa is the logical replacement for Ngcongca and would bring plenty of experience to the team, having made his international debut in 2005. On Tuesday, coach Igesund admitted: "Even if Ngcongca was available, I think I would have used Gaxa. I think things were meant to happen this way."

On the plus side, striker Lehlohonolo Majoro, the scorer of Bafana's second goal in the 2-0 win over Angola, has recovered from an injury he picked up at the of that match and is raring to go.

Winger Thuso Phala believes the tough matches South Africa had in the group stage will serve the team well in the quarter-finals.

'We just have to focus on our game'

"It is always an advantage coming from a tough game to another. Having said that, it's always going to be difficult playing one of the top teams on the continent, but we know what we have to do. We just have to focus on our game and not Mali's.

"They are going to be a handful, but it's a challenge we are aware of and ready for," he said.

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