AN air of seriousness during Bafana Bafana’s first training session at the Tamasco training ground in Tamale yesterday conveyed an awareness of the importance of winning their African Nations Cup opener against Angola on Wednesday.
There was little of the friendly banter and fooling around that can precede Bafana practices as players seemed focused and aware of the task ahead of them: restoring the national team’s pride and reputation, to provide a building block for the 2010 World Cup.
Goalkeeper-coach Hans Vonk raised an arm to the media on stepping off the bus. Captain Aaron Mokoena first milled with the players before doing the same.
Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has again stressed the importance of a victory in South Africa’s Group D opener against Angola at the spanking new Tamale Stadium on Wednesday. With a young squad, and in an evenly-balanced group, a defeat against dangerous Angola would put Bafana under considerable pressure in their games against Tunisa (Sunday) and Senegal (August 31).
The team have received a boost by the return after injury to full training of promising young Tsepo Masilela, who seems certain to start at left-back. Goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez, with three fractures to his left hand, will still make way to Moeneeb Josephs.
Parreira praised the standard of Bafana’s opening opposition.
“We saw them in the World Cup and we have watched some videos. Angola are a good team with experience and have had a good preparation.
“Apart from that, it is the opening game that is always critical for any team. It is so important to start well, so for them and for us it is a key game. Especially in this balanced group, where every game must be played like it is a final in itself.’’
Parreira expressed confidence in the ability of Wits University goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs to stand in for Fernandez. “[Fernandez] has been our number one goalkeeper, so of course when you miss a key player, it’s a miss … any time we call Moeneeb he has shown up, which gives us encouragement to play him without any problem and in full confidence he will be OK.”
The coach was cagey about revealing too much of his starting line-up, though it seems likely he will start with a simliar 4-4-2 team and formation, with Mokoena in midfield.