Johannesburg - There are no easy matches in international soccer any more and Bafana Bafana can expect a rough ride when they host unknown Niger in the opening 2012 African Nations Cup qualifier at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Saturday night.
Kick-off is at 20:30.
That was the warning from Bafana vice-captain and midfield kingpin Steven Pienaar, as the squad wrapped up their preparations at the Randburg Hoer Skool on Thursday.
The team then left for Nelspruit and their final training session at the match venue on Friday afternoon. “International soccer has become much more competitive. Anyone can beat anyone on a given day and we have to be on our guard against a side such as Niger who we know little about, Pienaar said.
"We must forget about our World Cup and beating Ghana (1-0) in a friendly last month. We are starting from zero.
"People think this is going to be an easy game - well let me tell you it is not going to be a walk in the park for us.”
Pienaar, who has been given a roaming role on the right of midfield where he operates successfully in the English Premiership, believes scoring an early goal would be vital. “If we score early we will have the crowd behind us and that is important.
"But we must guard against making mistakes and stay focussed.”
The midfielder also stressed that it was vital to qualify for the 2012 AFCON to be staged in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
“I said after the World Cup how important is was for us to pick up ourselves and start qualifying for the Nations Cup. We are in a tough group with Egypt (African champions) and Sierra Leone.
"We realise only the group winner is guaranteed a place in the finals, but we have to get there and start our campaign at home by beating Niger.”
Pienaar is likely to play alongside veteran Macbeth Sibaya, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Thanduyise Khuboni in the engineroom.
Up front Bafana’s current leading goal scorer, Katlego “Killer” Mphela and Bernard Parker should start.
It is at the heart of the defence where Mosimane has a headache with his three top central defenders all fit and has to decide which of the two SuperSport United stars, Morgan Gould or Bongani Khumalo, will partner Aaron Mokoena at centre half.
At right back Racing Genk speedy Anele Ngcongca, will get the nod ahead of Siboniso Gaxa and at left back Israel based Tsepo Masilela will be preferred over 20-year-old newcomer Keegan Ritchie, who is one of the players earmarked by Mosimane for the future.
In goal Mosimane has the luxury of having the country’s two best keepers available in Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs) and Orlando Pirates Moeneeb Josephs, while the Chiefs man is expected to retain his place.
Pienaar said he was impressed the new faces in the squad that Mosimane’s is grooming for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“I am delighted to see talented youngsters such as midfielder Daylon Claasen and others breaking into the squad.
It keeps the more experienced players on their toes and shows nobody is an automatic choice.”
Gaxa who signed a three year deal this week with Belgium club Lierse -the same club as Claasen - accepted he would have to fight to get his place back from the younger and faster Ngcongca.
“I have not had any game time since the World Cup because I was fighting with my former club (Mamelodi Sundowns) over a move to Europe. But now that my dream of playing in Europe has come true, I will be totally focused on my playing career, both at club and country level.”