Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba has applauded his players for qualifying for the group stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia qualifiers following a 1-0 victory over Angola in the second leg played at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Tuesday. South Africa advanced 4-1 on aggregate after winning the first leg 3-1 in Angola (Friday). Mashaba says: ‘I would like to applaud my players for sticking to the game plan which saw us proceed to Round 3. We are on the verge of turning things around, we are not there yet. It would be important to keep the momentum when we get to the AFCON qualifiers in March. The more you play, the more you get familiar with the system. But let us not deceive ourselves, even though we don’t know who will be in our group, it is going to be a tough journey to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. We have to be at our best to get through the group stages, irrespective of who we meet.’
The Bafana Bafana boss made three changes in the second leg following the red card handed to Andile Jali, and an injury to defender Anele Ngcongca – Dean Furman and Thulani Hlatshwayo filled up the positions respectively while Mpho Makola came on for Thulani Serero. It almost proved costly as Bafana Bafana could not get into gear. Mashaba says: ‘We knew they had nothing to lose and they will bring the game to us. At times we were playing with our backs against the wall but our boys stood firm. But when we played our kind of football we managed to control the proceedings and stop them from causing any harm. They were also a bit unfortunate not to have scored when we were saved by the upright, but that’s how the game goes. They are a good team, we have learnt a lot form them. If you sleep they will punish you. We started very slow because players thought we had wrapped up the game in Angola, but with time we managed to get to our rhythm.’
The home side made telling substitutions midway through the second half and it paid dividends. The Bafana Bafana boss says: ‘Our subs made all the difference – Thulani Serero and Sibusiso Vilakazi – they changed the complexion of the game and we were able to dictate the proceedings. They looked very frustrated. We would also like to thank the fans for giving us the strength we needed for this match.’
The next assignment for the national team is the 2017 AFCON qualifiers against Cameroon in March. Mashaba says: ‘Competition is about participation, and we would have loved to get practice matches so we can keep the momentum going but unfortunately we are governed by FIFA dates and there are none until March next year.’ Mashaba has qualified the National under-23 Team for the Olympics back in 2000 and several other junior international competitions; he has also led Bafana Bafana to an AFCON tournament with the World Cup qualification the only major competition outstanding on his illustrious CV.
He says: ‘This is the rooftop, I am looking forward to qualifying for the World Cup. I would really love to see myself qualifying this team for this tournament. I am well aware it is not going to be easy, but this is a good start. What we did here, going to Angola to come back with a win and finishing off the job in style at home is something to be proud of. I am really proud of this team.’
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