Backs to the wall for Bafana
Johannesburg - Revitalised Bafana Bafana will be tested to the limit when they travel to Freetown to face a fired-up Sierra Leone in a crunch 2012 African Nations Cup qualifier at the Brooksfield Stadium on Sunday.
GALLERY: Bafana hit the gym
Kick off is at 18:30 SA Time.
Bafana have shown a remarkable return to form since former Brazilian World Cup coach Carlos Alberto Parreira stopped the side going into freefall last November after a disastrous 17-month reign by his fellow countryman Joel Santana.
Now that the “professor” has left, his student in Pitso Mosimane, is carrying on in the same vein. Mosimane has studied well under Parreira and while picking up guidance under Parreira, he also knows where Santana got it badly wrong.
The coach is therefore well equipped to lead Bafana into what will be a backs to the wall fight against a Sierra Leone side who have nothing to lose and believe they can beat Bafana again on home soil.
They dumped Bafana 1-0 in their backyard two years back to end Bafana’s hopes of reaching the 2010 Afcon finals in Angola and despite their lowly Fifa ranking - 139th - showed they will be no pushovers by holding Group G favourites and African champions Egypt, to a 1-1 draw in Cairo in their opening group match last month.
Bafana downed Niger 2-0 in Nelspruit to get the qualifying campaign off to a winning start.
All the players interviewed this week were all singing form the same hymn sheet that this will be a different and better prepared Bafana ready to snatch three vital away points.
It is up to the players now to do their talking on the field and show they have learnt from the mistakes made in the 1-0 loss in June 2008.
A win would set up two big games against the Pharaohs of Egypt next year. Only the group winner is guaranteed a place in the 2012 finals to be staged in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Egypt travel to Niger this weekend and are expected to come home with three points.
Captain Aaron Mokoena this week admited it was going to be a tough 90 minutes. “It is never easy to play away from home, but to be fair, we have a different side this time.
"There will be a different defence and attack from 2008. That will make a difference and we are far better prepared, thanks to the World Cup and all the friendly matches we have played this year.”
But the home side, while confident, are not without their problems.
They are minus talisman and leading goal scorer Mohamed Kallon, who has had a spat with coach Christian Cole and was dropped.
Cole also excluded his other main striker, Kei Kamara, who plays in Major League Soccer in the United States for Kansas City Wizards, and Lincoln City winger Albert Jarret.
But Mosimane was quick to point out players change every game. "It does not matter who plays against us, they will be just as determined to beat us, so I take no comfort in the fact three of their key players are missing.
"We are also without Steven Pienaar who is injured.”
But Mosimane again stressed he had been to Freetown in 2008, saw the conditions, knows it will be the rainy season and they will play on a narrow pitch.
"But we have the ability and the confidence in the squad to get three points.”
Sierra Leone will be captained by Norwegian-based midfielder Mustapha Bangura who will play alongside AC Milan’s Rodney Starasser.
But while Bafana’s top goal scorer Katlego Mphela and strike partner Bernard Parker will be trying to open up the home defence, Mosimane has a major problem in replacing midfield maestro Pienaar who is ruled out after injuring his groin playing in the English Premiership for Everton.
Mosimane has two choices for the vacant berth on the right of midfield where Pienaar has been so effective. He could opt for out of form Orlando Pirates Teko Modise - who has failed to even make the bench for Bucs during their last two MTN8 matches.
The other choice is Mamelodi Sundowns' Surprise Moriri who played in the 1-0 loss in June 2008 and was recalled after missing Bafana's 2-0 win over Niger.
Of the two Moriri is the better bet. His spirits are high and he has a point to prove. Modise, on the other hand, is low on confidence and it would be a brave coach who selects him for a “dirty” job in rain-soaked Freetown.