Bafana Bafana might be the surprise team of the Confederations Cup which kicks off in June on home soil.
That was the opinion expressed by Bafana coach Joel Santana after the national team had stretched their winning streak to four matches when they beat more fancied Cameroon 3-2 in a pulsating Nelson Mandela Challenge played at Rustenburg’s Olympia Park in from of a capacity crowd on Wednesday night.
When asked which teams he would like in Bafana’s group for the Confederations Cup next year, Santana said he would love to have Brazil in his group. “If you asked me can we beat them then I will tell you that anything is possible in football. We are improving step by step and although my main goals is to make sure we are competitive at the World Cup finals in 2010, don’t write Bafana off in the Confederations Cup, we might just spring a surprise or two.”
Bafana took a giant step towards turning the corner when they produced their best performance this year to beat Cameroon in a pulsating 90 minutes of end to end action.
The only sad note was the absence of Cameroon superstar Samuel Eto’o, captain Rigobert Song and Newcastle United defender Geremi Njitap who all failed to board their flights to Johannesburg. But bizarrely the Cameroon coach, Otto Pfister, blamed the SA football Association for his three players’ non-show.
Safa CEO Raymond Hack rejected the German’s claims as “absolutely ridiculous”. Cameroon only arrived with one kit which is unprofessional of a side so highly rated in world football. Instead of blaming Safa, Pfister should get his own house in order.
Santana, who was born on Christmas Day had said that a win over the 14th world ranked Indomitable Lions would be the best possible Christmas present he could receive. And the team delivered.
Not only did the previously under-achieving Bafana deliver but they won the hearts of the sellout 20 000 crowd with a gutsy and skilful display where they more than matched Cameroon and were deserving winners.
Santana was happy to end the year on a high note after hitting the low point when he first took over from Carlos Alberto Parreira at the end of May and was thrown into the deep with no international experience as a national coach.
Away to Nigeria in his first match in June was a daunting task and things got much worse before they got better. But things are looking up and Santana can savour his Christmas gift and is now planning for next June’s Confederations Cup.
Said Santana: “I was pleased with everyone. They showed fantastic spirit. We are getting better with every game. But I am still taking it one step at a time. Today was a big step for us beating a big side like Cameroon and now we finish the year with a big win and start preparing in the New Year for the Confederations Cup full of hope and confidence.”
With the teams deadlock at 2-2 at halftime, Santana said his two substitutes in the second half made the difference. Cameroon keeper Carlos Kameni was unable top hold substitute Thulasizwe Mbuyane’s powerful shot which allowed the wide awake Bernard Parker to blast home the winner eight minutes from time.
Mbuyane replaced injured Katlego Mashego who was carried off when he was kicked in the face by Modeste Mbani in the 72nd minute. Parker came on for Benni McCarthy at the start of the second half. Said Santana: “Everything worked well. I am really confident we will do well at the World Cup in 2010 in the Confederations Cup.” But Santana said while he will be finalising the bulk of his squad for the Confederation Cup which features hosts Bafana, world champions Italy and the six continental champions, he had not closed the door only any budding Bafana player.
Said Santana:” I and the technical team are always looking at new talent so any player who plays well in locally or overseas will be considered.” Orlando Pirates midfielder Teko Modise was the star of the show scoring the first two goals in the opening half but could have notched his hat-trick had Kameni not saved his 89th minute penalty. But Modise shrugged off the missed penalty chance: “I was happy to get onto the scroresheet. The game is a team effort. I was happy to make a contribution and happy with my performance.”
But Modise said this was not his best display in a Bafana jersey. He said; “My best game for Bafana was against Paraguay (at the Super Stadium) earlier this year.”
Bafana beat high ranked South Americans 3-0 in March. Modise has now scored eight goals in 29 appearances.