Bafana must take fight to Pharaohs

Quietening rowdy home fans in Cairo could sway result against Egypt, says Baxter

Sibusiso Vilakazi of South Africa during training.
Sibusiso Vilakazi of South Africa during training.
Image: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Bafana need to quieten the crowd at Egypt’s 75,000-seat Cairo International Stadium cauldron in their classic 2019 Africa Cup of Nations last-16 clash of underdog versus the giants – the hosts – on Saturday night (kickoff 9pm).

Javier Aguirre – the coach who was in charge of Mexico against Bafana in the 2010 World Cup opening game – is not a popular head tactician of Egypt.

His football is seen here as too conservative, despite three clinical group A victories – 1-0 against Zimbabwe, 2-0 against Democratic Republic of Congo and 2-0 against Uganda.

The high price of tickets, as in 2010 in South Africa, has seen not necessarily the real Egypt fans go to the stadium.

Hardline president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is perceived as using the tournament for selfpromotion.

Members of the team, including star player Mohamed Salah, have come under fire for supporting midfielder Amr Warda, sidelined for a sexual harassment charge over lewd SMSes.

All of which has watered down the positive feeling for the host team.

Yet at Cairo International, the atmosphere can still be spectacular when Egypt play.

Bafana, if they are to stand any chance of an epic upset, need to try to harness some of the disgruntlement felt at Egypt, Bafana coach Stuart Baxter has said.

“The fact that we’re playing against the home nation is inspiring. And knowing the Egyptian people, knowing their passion for football and knowing that their expectations are very high, knowing that they have some great players, I believe the pressure is probably more on them,” Baxter said yesterday.

“Because for them it will be a national disaster if South Africa beat Egypt.

“Obviously at the beginning of the game they’ll have massive support. And maybe one of the jobs we have is to quieten the crowd by being a tougher opponent than they expect.” How can Bafana do that? Probably partly by frustrating and containing Egypt with the excellent structure South Africa showed in the group stage, even if Baxter’s football has also been castigated at home for its conservatism.

The coach, though, has also promised to offer a lot more in attack than in the 1-0 Group D defeat against Ivory Coast, 1-0 win against Namibia, and 1-0 defeat against Morocco.

“Certainly Morocco and Egypt are amongst the favourites. For us to stop individual players, we have to do that as a team,” the Bafana coach said.

“We must have a collective strategy that can stop Egypt’s best players.

“And there are some very good players. You mention Trezeguet, Salah – those are the attacking options.

“They have good runners from midfield. They have offensive full-backs.

“I’m hoping that the boys take on board what we’ve spoken about. And I think if we do then it will not be an easy game for Egypt.”

Liverpool hitman Salah has been gaining momentum with two goals from right wing.

Left wing Trézéguet has been probably Egypt’s best attacker.

Bafana have their best attacker, winger Themba Zwane, suspended and Baxter will look to Lebohang Maboe, Sibusiso Vilakazi or Thembinkosi Lorch to step up in his frontline.