After three cancelled training sessions due to player unavailability, Bafana Bafana finally held their one and only training session ahead of the first leg 2016 CHAN qualifier against Mauritius which will take place on Saturday at the Dobsonville Stadium. Kick-off is at 15:00. Bafana Bafana was this week rocked by player withdrawals with 12 of them leaving camp after SuperSport United, Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns, Bidvest Wits and Ajax Cape recalled their players from the national team camp – only 10 remained in camp leading to cancelled training sessions.
Head coach Ephraim Mashaba went looking for replacements and managed to call-up more players – six of them were able to attend the squad’s only training session to bring the number to 16 – just 24 hours before the clash with Mauritius. Two more players have since arrived in camp – Madisha Modjeka of M. Tigers and Ndumiso Mabena of Platinum Stars. This means eight players have heeded the national team call up, bringing the total number of players to 18, with one more expected tonight – Wandisile Letlabika of Bloemfontein Celtic.
Mashaba says: ‘It doesn’t matter who you play for or against, preparation is very crucial. Normally the day before the match we hold our practice session at the match venue where we are given about an hour, and there is not much you can do in that time, so we had to change the venue so we can have as much to train as we want. But the flip side is that it is just 24 hours before a match so you also can’t over train – we had to try and find a balance. We have to go out there and do it, even if we have 13 players we will go and play because we don’t want South African football to be in bad books. The fixture is there and we have to honour it. What is happening is not something one can be happy about. This is a good thing to happen so that people can know what is happening and what we are going through.’
Mashaba has also issued a warning to Mauritius that despite Bafana Bafana’s challenges they must come prepared: ‘There are those who when they hear the news of the challenges will be more motivated to come and play, and have more energy because the opponents are not organised. But at the same time it is a danger to them if they think because we have struggled to assemble a team the match will be a walk in the park, they are making a big mistake. These boys will also want to do well and hoist high the South African flag. We have called up a few players but the challenge is that some of those players don’t have passports – and without it you cannot play. The whole thing that has happened is an administrative issue which I don’t want to dwell on, it will not help, we have a game to play and we will go and play. It’s not the first time this happens.’
A negative result for the national team will have far-reaching consequences in future. Mashaba says: ‘I have spoken about the FIFA rankings and said that a bad result will put us at a disadvantage when it comes to being seeded for tournaments. What has happened here will lead to that. Some nations will be seeded and we will be placed in difficult groups which will put a further strain on the team to qualify for those tournaments.’ The coach believes this matter has affected everyone, including the players: ‘Even though I don’t want to talk on behalf of the players, I can safely say they must be feeling bad. There is no one who can be happy about this situation, and the players are no different – whether the ones who have been recalled by their clubs or those that have stayed with the team. Eventually it will affect the performance of those who will play because psychologically they can’t be fine. But we have to soldier on and be like professionals.’
Photo credit: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix