Meeting Ethiopia at altitude will test Bafana’s mettle

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BY MARC STRYDOM, JUNE 10 2013, 09:23

Bafana+fans+soccer+XXX+high+resYAOUNDE — Bafana Bafana have done half the job with a slick 3-0 victory on the road in their World Cup qualifier against Central African Republic (CAR) on Saturday, but Ethiopia at altitude in Addis Ababa is still the tougher prospect.

The win in Yaounde was South Africa’s first away victory in a World Cup qualifier since 2008. Now Bafana need another in hostile Addis Ababa, which is 2,400m above sea level, against an Ethiopia side that certainly showed at the African Nations Cup in January that they can play.

Ethiopia beat Botswana 2-1 in Gaborone on Saturday and top Group A with 10 points. If South Africa, on eight points, win on Sunday, they will have their destiny in their own hands when they face Botswana at home in their final match in September.

Coach Gordon Igesund admitted the altitude in Addis Ababa has him concerned. “Johannesburg is at 1,600m, Addis Ababa is 800m higher,” the Bafana coach said on Sunday. “So there’s no air up there. I’ll try and save the players with the way we play tactically.

“And I’ve brought a team where I have players who can change a game, like Richard Henyekane and Tlou Segolela, if I want to go that route, and get players in behind Ethiopia.

“I think with the character the players have shown, and the passion to get to the World Cup, it’s going to be tough, but we’ve got a chance.”

The victory against CAR was all the more impressive, given that Bafana had travel setbacks — two cancelled flights saw them take three days to reach Yaounde — and defensive injuries.

“We’ve had good games, but I think this was a good win,” Igesund said. “I’m really pleased about a lot of things. We’re not conceding goals, we’re scoring goals. In our last three games, we scored three (on Sunday), two against Lesotho, two against CAR in Cape Town.”

Bafana players have said the higher frequency of chances the team is creating is due to the direct football Igesund has instilled.

“The two goals we scored yesterday, there were five or six inter-passes and those little one-twos,” the coach said. “It’s easy to keep the ball in your own half and go sideways. I like to put opponents on the back foot. If they score two, we’re going to score three.”

This past weekend’s win must be considered among the most important away triumphs for the team in more than two decades of competitive action for the national side.

The 3-0 victory matches the winning margin that is the record for the biggest away triumph by Bafana, although Saturday’s success saw one goal fewer scored than when Bafana beat Namibia 4-1 in 1998.

Ironically, that match was also played on a neutral ground, in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, during the African Nations Cup finals.

South Africa have previously had four other 3-0 wins away from home — one in the Nations Cup qualifiers, two in the Cosafa Castle Cup and one in a friendly international.

Bafana beat Mozambique in Maputo in April 2001 and the Seychelles in February 2005 in the regional championship. The win over the Seychelles was in nearby Mauritius and saw Katlego Mphela score twice on debut.

The friendly win was in October 2003 over Lesotho, who Bafana also beat earlier this month in Maseru.

In 2007, Carlos Alberto Parreira marked his first match in charge with a 3-0 triumph in Chad in temperatures close to 40°.

The latest success for Igesund’s team means they have scored three successive away wins — in Kenya last October, Lesotho last week and now against CAR.

The record streak of five successive away wins was set between October 2004 and July 2005 when Stuart Baxter was in charge.

Bafana have won 46 times in 148 away matches, drawing 44 and losing 58.

With Mark Gleeson

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