Johannesburg - Bafana Bafana stand-in coach Owen da Gama believes they got what they wanted out of the two international friendly matches against Guinea-Bissau and Angola.
According to the SAFA website, Bafana defeated Guinea-Bissau 3-1 at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban and played to a goalless draw against Angola at the Buffalo City Stadium in East London.
The two clashes took place on Saturday, March 25 and Tuesday, March 28, respectively.
Bafana Bafana were using the encounters to prepare for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Cape Verde later this year.
“I believe it was a very worthwhile exercise for us. The two opponents (Guinea-Bissau and Angola) have typical Portuguese influence, which Cape Verde also has - off the ball running, very quick, and technically very strong players but not physically overpowering. There’s a lot of similarities and now we have a good idea of what to expect when we face Cape Verde. This was the best possible preparation we could have had for the World Cup qualifier,” said Da Gama.
“But also you have to understand that in a qualifier, it’s far different than in a friendly match - in a qualifier you can only make three substitutions, you have to be sure of the positions you are going to play meaning you have to make sure that you put the right person in the right position and there’s no time for trial and error.”
Da Gama had said he would use all the 25 players called up to the national team for the two friendly matches, but it did not happen - especially in the second match against Angola where he made nine changes which included three debutants.
“It was a game where we really wanted to see how much depth we have. We tried to keep some form of a structure with Mathoho, Langerman and Rivaldo as well as Jali and Mabunda, just to have a good spine. We also gave Thopola and the youngsters (Mahlambi and Singh) a chance so they could get a feel for it - it was not a test for the youngsters, and you have to understand it’s a big jump from u20 to Bafana Bafana,” said Da Gama.
“When we realised the combination was not working, we made changes at the break. We brought on Ramahlwe, not because Thopola was doing anything bad but we wanted more attacking options which Ramahlwe gives - we were looking for a goal. There was also support for Percy Tau from Themba Zwane, Thulani Serero and Keagan Dolly and he (Percy) started finding his feet. In the second half we stamped our authority.”
Only three players did not feature in the two matches - goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters, defender Lorenzo Gordinho and striker Lars Veldwijk.
“We wanted a win badly, especially for the local supporters who were supportive from the minute we landed in East London. But it was not to be. We also wanted to bring in Gordinho but we had to keep it as stable as possible,” added Da Gama.
“It was just unfortunate that we could not play every player in camp, but they got to feel what Bafana Bafana is all about and next time they won’t be overawed by the occasion and will fit in easier.”
Meanwhile Tau believes this crop of players has what it takes to take Bafana Bafana forward, but it will have to be a collective effort.
“For us to qualify for tournaments, it will have to be a collective effort – players, technical team, administration and the Association – but the team is very good, in fact the best national team I have been to ever. This is the squad that can take South Africa to Russia, even if I am not here, but the mood in the team, the vision is great and I believe in the guys,” said Tau, who scored against Guinea-Bissau.
Despite being a star attraction, the Mamelodi Sundowns forward believes he still has a long way to go.
“My goal is to get better with every match. Today (against Angola) was about getting to know the other players better and trying to enjoy the moment. I try to listen to what other players say about my performance, where I can still learn and develop. So there is so much I still have to learn from the national team,” said Tau.