Can Hlanti contain Salah? Confident Bafana defender not afraid of facing Egyptian
Bafana Bafana do not need to fear anyone‚ not even Egypt‚ left-back Sifiso Hlanti has said after the South Africans' 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) took another dramatic turn when they found out late on Tuesday night that they had qualified for the last-16.
At a personal level‚ Hlanti said‚ he also doesn't feel the need to pay too much respect to Egypt's Liverpool right wing hitman Mohamed Salah.
Results in Tuesday night's Group E and F games went Bafana's way‚ and saw them qualify as the fourth-best third-placed finisher.
After having a foot on the plane home following a last-gasp 1-0 defeat in their final Group D match against Morocco on Monday‚ South Africa meet Egypt at their Cairo International Stadium cauldron on Saturday (kickoff 9pm).
Hlanti said Bafana watched Mali's late 1-0 win against Angola‚ a decisive result in SA progressing‚ together at their team hotel near Cairo International Airport.
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Now the question is how SA - structured but lukewarm in the group stage‚ playing defensive football unpopular with the public back home - handle a host team who Egyptians have also not warmed so much to‚ and expect more from‚ despite three clinical group victories.
"Egypt rate us as underdogs‚" Hlanti said on Wednesday.
"I don't take that too much to heart. Because I know what our team can do for the country."
Coach Stuart Baxter will disagree‚ but South Africa have been unconvincing in the group stage.
Surely‚ though‚ that might be their biggest strength on Saturday‚ along with the fact that Bafana are not expected to have a sniff in the game‚ and have nothing to lose.
"For us to play them this coming weekend‚ it's going to be something else. We can turn things around‚" Hlanti said.
"So many people are rating us nowhere. But there's nothing we are afraid of. We also have good players. If we can switch on with a positive manner and attitude‚ we can make things happen.
"Against Morocco we conceded in the last minute and from a set piece.
"We're not going to give Egypt respect. I have a feeling that we can make things happen. Not only for us‚ but the country as a whole."
Hlanti has made some personal mistakes in the competition‚ notably giving the ball away too often.
But he is a big‚ strong battler at left-back. Can he contain Salah?
"There are a lot of good players I've come up against‚ like [Senegal's] Sadio Mane.
"It's a learning curve‚" the Bidvest Wits defender said.
"I won't put pressure on myself. I believe that I can do better. And I'm not afraid to face anyone at any time.
"It's all about my game. If I have that in my mind - who cares? I have to respect myself before I tend to respect someone else."
In their first two group games Bafana lost against Ivory Coast 1-0 then beat Namibia 1-0.