Sydney - Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund has tipped his traveling squad of 18 players to Australia to become integral members of South African teams in years to come, as the country looks toward building future generations of stars.
Igesund and his team take on Australia in Sydney on Monday morning (South African time) in a fixture which serves as the Socceroos’ final meeting before they jet off to Brazil for the World Cup in June.
The 57-year-old’s squad of 18 was ravaged by player withdrawals before the team departed for the tour of Australasia, which includes a friendly international against New Zealand on Friday, but Igesund said he was looking forward to ushering in a new era for the South African Football Association (Safa).
“The team’s a formidable team,” Igesund said in central Sydney on Sunday morning (Australian time).
“It’s a highly talented squad and when I started hearing all these things about the team, it’s a new generation now. We’ve got a new group of players and I think they’re going to put up a good showing.
“They’re a very young team but they have to start somewhere. They’re a group of players that we’ve identified to take us forward and this is the future of South African football.”
The South Africans head into the clash having lost their previous outing against Brazil in March, an international friendly which pitted the World Cup hosts against a disappointing Bafana outfit which succumbed to a vastly superior team in Johannesburg, losing 5-0.
With his contract coming to an end in June and no mention from Safa about possible talks of an extension, Igesund could be taking charge of his penultimate game as coach of the national team on Monday evening.
With nothing less than a strong showing from the hosts expected from the 50 000 confirmed ticket-holders, Igesund and his young side will be in for a tough fight against their fellow Southern Hemisphere opponents.
The pair have met twice since 1992, but they have not managed to bag a victory, as both games — in 2005 and 2008 — ended in draws, 1-1 and 2-2 the scorelines.
“They’ve got a formidable team, they’ve got a lot of very good players,” Igesund said of the Socceroos, who are yet to reduce their current squad of 30 to a final 23 for the World Cup, which gets underway on June 12.
“Their striking force is very good, I’ve watched them a lot. Players like Tim Cahill, Matthew Leckie and Tommy Oar will probably start, they’re decent players.
“Their midfield is pretty strong as well.”
In his assessment of Australia, Igesund commended coach Ange Postecoglou for the vast improvements in the Aussie ranks since the Greek-born Australian coach took over the reins in October 2013.
“I watched a couple of games against Canada, Costa Rica and against Ecuador. I think the team is playing with a high tempo, they play honestly, they’re quite a physical outfit, which you need to be.
“But I think they play the game the way it should be played. Be honest out there, work hard, fight for things and play the type of football that people want to see.
“From what I’ve seen, I think there’s been a big improvement. With the attitude of players, they look like they want to play out there, it looks like they’re hungry out there and I think.”
Bafana will take part in a final training session at Monday’s venue, the ANZ Stadium, on Sunday evening, following a single session on Saturday.
Defender Thabo Nthethe, tipped to be handed the captain’s armband against the Aussies, gave Igesund somewhat of a scare after pulling up with an ankle problem, but Igesund later confirmed it was “nothing serious” and confirmed Nthethe would be available for selection, come Monday evening’s 7.30pm kick-off.
“It was just a slight knock. Because I only have 18 players here, I decided to take him off the field and rather not risk further injury… he’s fine now, there’s no problem.”
Following Bafana’s trip Down Under, the team head into their next assignment, qualification to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, starting in September and ending in November, with a tricky group A lying in wait.
South Africa were drawn in the same qualification group as reigning champions Nigeria, while Sudan and another team, yet to be decided, pave the way for a rocky road towards the tournament, set for Morocco next year.
“For me, I’m looking at my team. I know it’s a preparation game for Australia, going to the World Cup but for me it’s preparation for further things down the line for us,” Igesund added.
“I think the game will be played in the right spirit and it’ll be an interesting game.”