By Fred Kaweesi
Orange Africa Cup of Nations
Today: 6pm, SS4
Ghana v Cape Verde
At 9.30pm, SS4
South Africa v Mali
South African defender Siyabonga Sangweni is an inspiring herdsman. He owns over 34 heads of cattle and 56 goats and like any responsible herdsman, has driven over 200km from Durban to his Dondotha village in Mpangeni, just to watch over them.
Interestingly, the Orlando Pirates defender’s ‘herdsman-ship’ skills have not stopped there.
He has taken on similar responsibilities with the Bafana Bafana team, where he has guided his herd of cattle (the hosts) to the right water point (quarterfinals) in the 2013 Orange Nations Cup.
When they needed the goals in the group stages, he abandoned his defensive duties to find them, the first in the 2-0 win against Angola and second in the 2-2 draw against Morocco.
Bafana fans will understandably demand similar match-winning performances from Sangweni, also known as Nsimbi, which means ‘Iron man’ because of his ability to stop opponents from reaching the goal area and spring forward.
But that will not be as straight forward against a Malian side that is lethal on the counter and has a string of elusive play-makers in the mould of Seydou Keita to contend with.
“We will have to work as a unit,” Sangweni pointed.
Pressure and expectation are building in equal measure here. As of yesterday, all match tickets for this game had sold out and to counter the huge numbers, the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) has decided to design Fan Parks that will accommodate the overwhelming number of fans that have not accessed tickets.
From the two teams’ camps, mind games have also been the staple diet for the last three days.
In the aftermath of their goalless draw against DR Congo, Mali coach Patrice Carteron stressed that the pressure would be on Bafana Bafana to fulfill the hopes of this expectant nation, an opinion his counterpart Gordon Igesund dismissed as baseless.
“He (Patrice) is doing what most coaches do, which is take the pressure off his team. Believe me, in every team in this competition at this stage, all the players are feeling nervous. And there is as much pressure on me and him as every other coach,” Igesund hinted.
“To be really honest, we were under pressure in the first round. The expectations were so high. We are so proud that we managed to make the nation proud and get to the quarterfinals.
“So the pressure is off as far as that’s concerned. So for us the pressure now is that we want to do well and not that we have to do well,” Igesund reasoned.
It says a lot about South Africa’s fragility at the back as seen during their dramatic 2-2 draw against Morocco last Sunday that Igesund took to working with his defensive unit for the last 48 hours.
There will be one change to South Africa’s backfour with Siboniso Gaxa stepping in for the suspended Anele Ngcongca. Striker Lehlohonolo Majoro still had stitches on his chin yesterday, which means Bernard Parker and Katlego Mphela will shoulder the hosts’ attacking duties with Thulani Serero seated behind the two.
Mali could not win against the DRC, but looked impressive. They are the sort of team Bafana can struggle against, a team with gangly players, slow but fast on the break, patient but efficient on the break.
Mali’s central midfield utilizes a lone player Mohammed Sissoko, infront of the defence, with two playmakers Samba Sow and Keita ahead of him.
Ghana will battle Cape Verde in the other quarterfinal.