Bafana aim for knock-out blow

2013-01-31 13:54
Sport24 columnist Mark Fish (File)
Bafana Bafana have completed their first goal of AFCON 2013 by reaching the quarter-finals. Whether it means losing one’s voice and gaining a few grey hairs, so be it! It’s all in a day’s work for a fan of the national football side.

It was very important that South Africa ended top of their group as you then generally avoid one of the more fancied teams, which turned out to be Ghana on this occasion.

The last time we reached the quarter-finals was in 2000 and history suggests that every time Bafana have reached the knock-out stages, they have at least booked a semi-final spot. These are exciting times for the current side.

I remember our 1996 quarter-final clash with Algeria vividly.

Beforehand, Clive Barker emphasised the importance of the game to all the players and specifically instructed me to stay back and defend. But my instinct throughout that unforgettable tournament was to venture forward, create confusion among the opposition defence and try to create or even score goals!

In my defence, why I often - but not always - disobeyed Clive was due to the fact that I started out as a striker in my youth and loved scoring goals. I’m sure he has long forgiven me for venturing forward against Algeria, as I scored the opening goal of the game, which we went on to win 2-1.

Fast forward to the present and Siyabonga Sangweni is doing much of the same and looks very comfortable scoring goals, I might add. He has scored two crucial goals thus far and long may it continue.

While Bafana Bafana have finally put the issue of scoring goals to bed, I feel they need to improve defensively. Defending comes first and I believe the back four needs to improve their communication and be more aware of what’s happening around them.

As a defensive unit, Bafana need to be a lot more solid, something which was largely not in evidence against Morocco. The good news, however, is that they are mistakes that can be rectified in time for our clash with Mali.

On Saturday evening against the West Africans, the business end of the tournament really kicks into gear for Bafana. In knock-out football, mistakes are magnified and cost matches. Only the fittest will survive physically and mentally.

I believe Mali are opponents Bafana must really respect as they are a top team. They possess physically imposing players yet aim on playing attractive football. They don’t play route-one football which one would typically expect from a side with such physical prowess.

Just about everything the Maliansdo between the four white lines goes through their captain and former Barcelona midfielder, Seydou Keita.

He is their inspiration and my word, at 33, is still going strong!

While Mali have plenty of talented players, I believe that if Bafana can limit the amount of possession Keita gets, then half the battle will be won. He truly is the heartbeat of the side.

Furthermore, if Bafana use their pace and get behind the Malian defence then they will cause problems. It’s key that Bafana play to their strengths and not those of Mali’s.

We are all behind the team and urge Bafana to go all the way, so that we can stop talking about 1996, as it reminds me of just how old I’m getting!
Mark Fish, capped 62 times for South Africa, was a key member of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations-winning side.

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Read more on:    bafana bafana  |  afcon  |  mark fish  |  soccer

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