ONE of the eight survivors of Bafana Bafana’s 2013 Africa Cup of Nations squad yesterday brushed off suggestions that South Africa would travel to Equatorial Guinea for this month’s edition of the event as underdogs.
Thuso Phala pointed to Bafana’s qualification campaign in dismissing the idea that coach Shakes Mashaba’s men were the least likely to win Group C, which includes the continent’s No1 side Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.
Bafana qualified for the Nations Cup with a game in hand and were unbeaten in six qualifiers.
“I don’t think the way we qualified allows us to be seen as underdogs. I think teams going to the Afcon will want to prepare well against us. I’m sure they have been watching our videos,” Phala said.
“Whoever wants to see us as underdogs can go ahead, but I think they will be at a disadvantage. With the players that we have, I see us as being favourites in our group.”
Phala, a late addition to Mashaba’s plans given that he did not feature for Bafana until after the qualifiers, will take part in his second Nations Cup.
The SuperSport United speedster helped South Africa reach the quarterfinals of this competition two years ago under then coach Gordon Igesund, who coincidentally took up the SuperSport job after his contract with Bafana expired in August.
“There’s a difference in the age department now because there are a lot of youngsters,” Phala said when asked to compare the 2013 team to the one currently preparing to represent the country.
“And that means we are more energetic and more positive as a team and we are working with a coach whose positive energy rubs off on the players. I’d say the difference is everyone being so confident.”
The 28-year-old said he arrived in camp already fired up despite temporarily being out in the cold and watching Bafana matches on TV.
“Everyone was saying Bafana were finally worth watching. For once I looked forward to seeing the guys playing away against Congo and getting a win. We only drew one game away from home, against Nigeria. So, I am confident we will go to Equatorial Guinea and get the [positive] results,” Phala said.
He is perhaps on the fringes of the starting lineup, but that was also the case weeks before the last Nations Cup, held in South Africa.
On Sunday, Phala scored the winning goal for Bafana against Zambia, coming off the bench.
He said he was eager to fight for his place during the upcoming friendlies against Cameroon on Saturday and Gabon a few days later. South Africa leave for Gabon this afternoon and are expected to cross the border to Equatorial Guinea next week.
– Mazola Molefe