Mashaba: SA's attitude key
Marrakech - The South African Under-23 soccer team can beat Egypt in the final Group B Confederation of African Football (CAF) Championship clash against Egypt in Morocco on Saturday, coach Shakes Mashaba said on Thursday.
However, they needed to improve their competitive attitude for the match at Stade de Marrakech, he said.
"This [game against Egypt] is our last chance. The competitive attitude has to be instilled in them. Play like you normally play at home," advised the coach.
"If we win this game, I'm sure we will go on to surprise a lot of people and teams in the competition."
Baby Bafana, with two points, now have to beat Egypt, on three points, to stand a chance of progressing through to the all-important semi-final stages of the competition that will be their ticket to next year's London Olympic Games.
In their opening two matches, the South Africans - admittedly lacking match fitness and missing the core of the regular squad - twice threw away first-half leads.
They appeared to go into a cocoon in the second-half to concede late equalisers against Ivory Coast on Sunday and Gabon on Wednesday, with both games ending in 1-1 draws.
"We had our talk in the dressing room after the Gabon match, where the players also gave their views on the game," Mashaba said.
"The picking up in the box was not right, and the central midfield was also a worry.
"We showed signs of fatigue and most unfortunately, we should have been sitting with six points at this stage," he said.
Mashaba will be pleased to have defender Eric Mathoho and central midfielder Thami Sangweni available for selection in his makeshift squad.
With Mathoho rested because of his knee injury and Sangweni suspended, lack of depth forced him to play Gladwin Shitolo and Thulani Hlatshwayo in central defence, while moving the versatile Phumelele Bhengu to right-back.
Bhengu had played as a striker against the Ivorians alongside Rodney Ramagalela, and scored the side's goal.
In the middle of the park, Thandani Ntshumayelo and Jabulani Shongwe were both off-form, while Mandla Masango's match fitness is a concern despite his match winning ability.
"But what can I do? We also arrived here and went straight to the competition. Look at the preparations that the likes of Ivory Coast and Egypt had," Mashaba said.
"My heart bleeds when you see the all the efforts [to get to this final round qualifier stage] go up in smoke.
"I said, let's go honour this. I would rather have had this problem [of not having players that could not be released by their clubs] when we had qualified for the Olympics, because then the job would have been done.
"It would have been a disgrace having to pull out of the competition, not because we didn't have sponsors or anything, but because we couldn't get players."
It has not been all negative, though, as South Africa have impressed the locals with their nimbleness and skilful touches.
For Egypt, Mashaba wants to see his boys finish what they started, making build ups from the back, and converting the numerous chances they create to goals that matter.
"We need to hold on to the ball, build from the back and knock it around and I believe we'll catch them, " he said.
"We know Egypt, having played them in two matches recently, and if we play this way, this is where we will catch them."
Ivory Coast, with four points after beating the Egyptians 1-0 on Wednesday, line up against Gabon, on one point, in a simultaneous fixture in Tangiers with all four teams standing chance of progressing through to the last four.