Johannesburg - Bafana Bafana kick off their campaign in the CAF Orange Africa Cup of Nations Equatorial Guinea 2015 against Algeria on Monday but will be without two of their stars.
According to the supersport.com website, defender Erick Mathoho and midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane will be missing from the match-day team sheet as they are serving a one match suspension each.
Mathoho has been a pillar of strength in the South African defence - he played all six Afcon 2015 qualifiers, and a further three matches since head coach Shakes Mashaba took over the reigns of Bafana Bafana. He missed the recent warm-up match against Cameroon in Gabon.
Tower, as he commonly known, is on suspension after two cautions in the qualifiers in the back-to-back matches against Sudan in Durban and Nigeria in Uyo in November.
This will be his first AFCON tournament.
“It has really hit me hard that I won’t be part of the opening match because I had told myself that I was going to fight very hard for my country for us to do well. But I believe we have capable players who can do the job and I trust them to deliver. For me it is a great honour and I am happy to be part of this event. I believe this could be a chance for one to showcase their skill and maybe get a good opportunity to move abroad,” said Mathoho.
“I know it is going to be a difficult very difficult match against Algeria but we need to be strong and be focussed, try and forget that we are playing the No 1 nation on the continent and I think we will do well. Everyone must work hard towards a positive result. The aim is to get a win, and if all else fails then a draw but not lose.”
Letsholonyane joined the qualifying campaign late and played only three matches - Congo in Pointe Noire, Sudan and Nigeria, where he was sent off after receiving his second yellow card in that match.
“It’s very unfortunate that I will not be part of the team in the opening game but it comes with the job. On the other hand I have faith and belief in my teammates and the entire technical team because we have been working hard to do our best. I know whoever is given an opportunity to play will do their best for the team,” said Letsholonyane.
“What I would say to them is that it’s an opportunity of a lifetime to play in this tournament, as some of us might not get this chance again. I am not putting pressure on anyone but they must go out there and enjoy themselves. They must do the best they can and make this country proud by competing and if we lose let’s lose with pride and when we win let’s win with pride.”
This will be Letsholonyane’s second AFCON tournament – he was part of the AFCON 2013 event that was held in South Africa.
“One of the major differences is that this one is away, the first one was at home and we didn’t really qualify for it. This one is in Equatorial Guinea and we qualified to be here and participate. I would say this is a very special Afcon for me and I am happy that I am part of the group that performed well to be where we are now. It’s an experience that no one can buy or take away from you. I am humbled to be part of this event,” added Letsholonyane.
Yeye, as the dreadlocked midfielder is called by his fans, is optimistic that Bafana Bafana can deliver.
“We obviously want to win the opening match. I am happy with the way preparations went but it’s important for us to win our first match as it will give us the confidence and motivation that we can go far, and if we want to go far we have to win our first game. The group we are in, which people have termed the Group of Death, has good teams but we are also one of the good teams and we are here to compete not to add the numbers. Even though we respect them, we don’t worry about their history,” he said.
Letsholonyane believes the team should use their previous experience to maintain their ten-match unbeaten run since Mashaba was recalled to Bafana Bafana.
“It’s important to refer back and check the good things we did in the last 10 games and learn from the mistakes that we can rectify for the future, but I don’t think we should dwell on them because they are behind us, now we are facing another hurdle,” said Letsholonyane.
“We said when we started the qualifiers that this was a journey, and the journey continues – and the game against Algeria is part of the journey. But we are confident. The past matches we played and did well in them don’t mean we have to be arrogant about it, we just have to be humble and work hard to get more victories.”
Bafana Bafana and Algeria meet at the Estadio de Mongomo in Equatorial Guinea. Kick-off is at 21:00.
In an earlier kick-off, Ghana and Senegal will go toe to toe in another Group C clash at the same venue.