BAFANA Bafana will have their work cut out to beat a classy Mali in tomorrow's Orange Africa Cup of Nations soccer quarterfinal at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
Mali go into the game with the conflict in their country at the back of their minds. The team have said they wish to succeed in this tournament to give good news to their countrymen, so, like Bafana on their nation-building mission, they have all to play for.
Certainly, the Eagles should be the favourites. Mali are ranked No3 in Africa and 25th in the world. The west Africans were third- placed finishers in the last Afcon a year ago in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
South Africa's low world ranking of 85th has become something of a moot point in this competition. Their achievement of reaching the quarters with a tough 0-0 draw against Cape Verde, impressive 2-0 win against Angola and a fighting 2-2 draw against Morocco, has far outperformed their ranking.
Under the leadership of coach Gordon Igesund, who has put together a competitive, bonded squad, and lifted by the superb support they have received at Moses Mabhida, southern Africa's underachievers of the past 10 years have found their tournament confidence again.
Tomorrow's quarterfinal will be their first since losing 2-0 to then-hosts Mali in 2004.
Bafana have shown several frailties in the tournament. After creating barely any scoring chances in their opener, Igesund employed an ultra-attacking line-up and four goals flowed since, but the offensive imbalance of the team was often exposed by Morocco.
A shaky central defence of Siyabonga Sangweni and Bongani Khumalo has not helped. But confidence and a growing fighting spirit have been provided by the way the South Africans managed to hang on against the Atlas Lions, and to fight back through two stunning goals.
Right wing Thuso Phala said yesterday the draw against a determined Morocco gave Bafana the workout they needed for the knockout stages.
"It's always an advantage coming from a difficult game to the knockout stages," he said. "It's also boosted the confidence. We're feeling really good and looking forward to Saturday's game."
Igesund has also had the benefit of four days' training sessions to iron out some of the kinks.
He has said he will have a gameplan for the tall Malians. This is set to revolve around utilising the pace and skill of runners such as Tokelo Rantie, Thulani Serero, Lerato Chabangu, Katlego Mphela and Majoro to get behind the Eagles to put them under pressure.