Upbeat Bafana Bafana ready for Nigeria
Bafana Bafana’s confidence has skyrocketed after shocking hosts Egypt to reach Wednesday night’s Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal against Nigeria at the Cairo International Stadium (kickoff 9pm).
Now the onus is on keeping level heads as Stuart Baxter seeks a game plan as effective as the one that stifled Mo Salah, Trezeguet and company in the game in front of 75,000 home fans on Saturday night.
Baxter and his Nigeria counterpart, Gernot Rohr, have become well acquainted over the past two years.
SA began this tournament, in Baxter’s first match in charge of his second stint, beating Nigeria 2-0 in their qualifier in Uyo in June 2017 – Bafana’s first competitive win against their nemesis team.
They drew the return match 1-1 at the FNB Stadium in Soweto in November 2018.
Baxter will try, in these three days’ preparation, to drum in a few things, surely.
That Bafana know they can beat Nigeria, especially buoyed by an epic upset of the hosts.
But also that there are no easy matches at Egypt 2019 – as shown by SA and Benin, who knocked out Morocco.
Nigeria just came through a thrilling 3-2 win to oust champions Cameroon in the last 16 in Alexandria.
They have confidence too. “The coach has spoken to us that we have to continue putting aside that mentality that we can’t win against Nigeria, because we can,” Bafana centre-forward Lebogang Mothiba said at their team hotel on Monday.
“The first qualifier we beat them, and the second game we drew 1-1.
“This shows that anything is possible in football.”
It is hard, though, to stop Bafana walking on air after Saturday’s spectacular, disciplined, inspired deconstruction of the hosts.
“Yeah, yeah, you know, because that victory against Egypt, everyone is up now,” Mothiba said grinning.
“And this is good – for the players, for the group, for confidence and everything.
“We just have to keep going like this and I’m sure we can beat Nigeria.”
The shock of Egypt might have been the best performance – but if not, then certainly it was one of the best – by the underachieving national team in 20 years.
“Twenty years? Me, I was, like, three years old. But we did very well,” Mothiba said.
“We pressed them high, we didn’t give them a chance to play.
“And the coach said I must always look at that No 8, I think they call him ‘Gattuso’ [Tarek Hamed], and that I needed to always close him down, because he was the one making them play [with his distribution].
“I had to close him down and press the defence so that they had to clear the ball and not play it.”
Baxter has described the application of the game plan as a tactical masterclass.
Bafana needed more friendlies – that much, from their unconvincing group stage, is very clear.
But they could not have applied such a strategy, pressing Egypt high, requiring extraordinary levels of application, had they not been beaten into shape in a three-week preparation camp.
Baxter has to decide whether to keep a similar tactic against Nigeria.
Against a very different team, he is likely to tweak it.
Nigeria beat Burundi and Guinea 1-0, but were shocked 2-0 by Madagascar – all those matches in Alexandria – to finish second in Group B.