Durban - Gordon Igesund is counting down the clock to the “biggest game” of his international coaching career as South Africa prepare to take on Mali in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals here at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday.
“It is a hugely important game and probably the most important game for all of us," the Bafana Bafana coach said on Friday.
He insisted the pressure on his side was somewhat released by their qualification for the last eight.
South Africa beat Angola and drew with Cape Verde Islands and Morocco to secure top spot in Group A.
“The guys have showed me in the last couple of days that they have a great deal of confidence, that fear seems to have left us now,” he said.
“I think there was a lot of pressure on the teams to get through the first round, for us as host it was extreme.
“I think that has lifted a little bit. I think the players have started to understand now that we are very capable.”
Igesund's highest pressure period in charge was in the build-up to the finals when the team was struggling to score goals, but they have since turned things around and are now just two games away from the final.
“It’s obvious when you represent your country and you’ve got 55 million people behind you wanting to do the same thing, it’s a very proud moment,” the 56-year-old, who won Premiership titles with Manning Rangers, Orlando Pirates, Santos and Mamelodi Sundowns, said.
“Without any doubt, every game you play for the national team is the most important game."
He confirmed that he would make some changes to his starting line-up, but stopped short of naming them.
“I can tell you now we’re not going to have the same team out there,” Igesund said.
He was confident the capacity 56 000 crowd would not witness a potential nerve-jangling penalty shoot-out.
“Penalties are obviously part of the rules of the competition once you reach the knock-out stages,” he said.
“We’ve been practising them on a regular basis and making sure every day after training we took our penalties."
For Mali coach Patrice Carteron, it was also going to be the biggest game of his young career.
The Frenchman, who began coaching in 2007, saw his team beat Niger, lose to Ghana and draw with the Democratic Republic of Congo in the first round.
“Because I am still a young coach, the game against Congo was the most important game to date in my career,” Carteron said.
“But then the next one on Saturday will replace that and become my most important one.”