BAFANA Bafana coach Gordon Igesund believes the pressure is on Mali for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) soccer quarterfinal in Durban on Saturday. But Mali coach Patrice Carteron said after his side drew 0-0 draw against Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday to reach the knockout stages that he believed the pressure was on Bafana to fulfil the hopes of a nation expectant of a tournament victory.
Igesund yesterday wrote that off as mind games and even managed to neatly turn the tables on his counterpart.
"He's doing what most coaches do, which is take the pressure off his own team. Believe me, in every team in this competition at this stage, all the players are feeling nervous. And there's as much pressure on me and him as every other coach.
"We were under huge pressure in the first round. The expectations were so high, we hadn't performed in our friendly games. Although our friendlies, when you really analyse them, were very tough and did us a favour.
"So the reverse is there really. We're so pleased and proud that we've made the nation happy and we've managed to get to the quarterfinal. So the pressure's off as far as that's concerned, because it would have been an absolute tragedy if we hadn't qualified. For us, the pressure's now that we want to do well, not we have to do well."
It says much about Bafana's fragility at the back they displayed in their dramatic 2-2 draw against Morocco on Sunday that Igesund, in his team's first training session back yesterday, immediately took to working with his defensive unit. But the coach said he believes the problem also needs to be rectified from in front of his back four.
"Against Morocco I think we didn't defend well in the midfield. We gave them too much space. Rather than defend those balls in the area, we have to stop the supply getting in there," Igesund said.
There will be one change to the SA back four, with Anele Ngcongca suspended from two yellow cards. Igesund as good as confirmed that Siboniso Pa Gaxa will get the nod for the position.
"Pa's really been fighting hard in training and his opportunity will come now... even if Anele was not out I might have gone for Pa... "
Striker Lehlohonolo Majoro, who had stitches to his shin, will train without the ball for the next two days then resume full training tomorrow.
Mali could not win against the DR Congo, but looked impressive. They're the sort of team Bafana can struggle against with large players, slow, patient build-ups, a calm defence, and a suppressing game in midfield.
"There's not a small player – all 11 are tall," Igesund said. "When we've got the ball we'll make them work very hard...
"Let's see how Mali cope with a team that's going to run at them. We've got great technique, ability and skills, and we've also got speed. Let's see how they deal with that."