Bafana get down to serious business

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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 has received a boost by the return to full training of promising young Tsepo Masilela after injury, who seems certain to start at left-back.

Goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez, with three minor fractures to his left hand, will still make way for 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 is a good team with experience and they have had a good preparation

“Apart from that it is the opening game, which 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 BidVest Wits’ goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs.

“He [Fernandez] has been our No 1 goalkeeper, so of course when you miss a key player, it’s a miss. But it’s not the end of the world. It happens to any team and every time we have called on Moeneeb he has shown up, which gives us encouragement to play him without any problem and in full confidence he will be okay.”

KickOff.com’s Luthando ‘Trompies’ Zibeko, reporting from Tamale, says the coach also indicated that they will have their training sessions early in the morning to allow them to watch other games. Bafana Bafana missed the opener between hosts, Ghana and Guinea.

A disappointed Fernandez also told KickOff.com that he wished his teammates all the best on Wednesday.

The former Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper missed the 25th edition of the Nations Cup in Egypt due to injury and will be hoping that he will be ready to reclaim his place when Bafana Bafana face Tunisia on January 27.

“It is the nature of the game and I am just hoping that we will have a good start on Wednesday. I wish Moeneeb all the best on Wednesday. It is an opportunity for him to show what he can offer. The coach has spoken to me about it and he told me if Moeneeb has a super game I will watch from the bench. It is not a problem for me to start all over again fighting for the starting berth. I will start full training with the team on Thursday after the game,” he says.

National Under-23 coach Steve Komphela has joined Bafana Bafana following the absence of part time assistant Khabo Zondo. Komphela will be attending Bafana’s opponents’ games and reporting back to Parreira.

Media officer Sifiso Cele also revealed that right-back Tumelo Nhlapo celebrated his birthday today and that the squad had signed a card for him.

Tumelo, who was brought into the Bafana squad as a replacement for injured Vuyo Mere, has featured for the national Under 17, 20 and 23 sides.