All eyes are on new Bafana Bafana head coach, Gordon Igesund, to deliver for the national side as Afcon 2013’s kick-off date draws closer.
Igesund took over from Pitso Mosimane after a string of poor results from Bafana Bafana. He signed a two-year, performance-based contract with the South Africa Football Association (Safa) and has the task of, at the very least, getting Bafana Bafana to the semi-finals of the tournament.
Igesund has a solid track record in South Africa, having won league titles with four different teams—Manning Rangers, Orlando Pirates, Santos and Mamelodi Sundowns.
However, so far results have been patchy. Igesund’s first game in charge was against former world champions Brazil. They lost 1-0 but Bafana Bafana’s overall performance was impressive. Igesund was content with the high work rate that players displayed on the field. His second test was against low-ranked Mozambique. Bafana Bafana won 2-0 convincingly against their neighbors. Bafana Bafana showed great character and strong determination against Poland but were unlucky to lose 1-0, away from home. Most recently, Bafana Bafana managed to bag a victory at the expense of Kenya with a 2-1 score in an interesting battle.
Igesund believes the results show that the team is on the right track as they gear up for Afcon 2013 that kicks off at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
“I have confidence in our players, that they have what it takes to deliver. [During] my first game, when we played against Brazil, I did not spend a lot of time with the players but they displayed high standard performances and gave Brazil a tough game.
“The players were playing an exciting passing game and they complemented each other well. It was a pity Brazil scored and we ended up losing,” says the coach.
In their most recent game, Igesund says that Bafana was faced with tough conditions but prevailed.
“It was a bumpy pitch, but we did cope and got a win away from home. That was an important result for us,” he says.
Still the pressure is on for the coach. The glory days of the 1996 Bafana Bafana team, under coach Clive Barker, that lifted the trophy means the team has high expectations. Afcon is back on South African soil and the nation will remember the 2-0 victory over Tunisia with goals delivered off the boot of striker Mark Williams.
Igesund says support is crucial.
“The support that we have from the nation will motivate us.”
South Africa has a dream start to the tournament that kicks off on January 19, at Soccer City in Johannesburg. They are in group A and will kick-off with a match against debutantes Cape Verde. Also in the group are Morocco and Angola.
Igesund says they’ll be ready and won’t dismiss Cape Verde or any of the other teams in the group.
“We will be ready to make the country proud by the time the tournament starts. Cape Verde might be making their debut in the finals but they will be a tough team considering they eliminated giants like Cameroon. Morocco is one strong team and Angola cannot be underestimated,” says Igesund.
It’s all about starting on a good footing.
“We have to take all our opening games seriously, in order to do well in our group.”
Bafana Bafana has a number of challenges. Former captain Steven Pienaar, who played for Everton in the English Premiership, has retired from international football.
Igesund has recalled Benedict McCarthy. Though experienced, the Orlando Pirates forward has been out of action for a while due to injury. The other influential player who is also uncertain is Kaizer Chiefs defender Morgan Gould. Igesund has not been able to select him for recent games because Gould has been battling with a long-term injury.
And most tragically, the squad will also be without first assistant coach Thomas Madigage who was killed in a car crash in October. The loss of Madigage has hit the Bafana camp hard.
“Tommy was very close to me. It is unfortunate that he will not be around during the tournament. He was a very important member in the team,” says Igesund.