South Africa and Mali will kick-off at 15h00 local time in Gabon (16h00 SA time).
Bafana Bafana played to a 1-1 draw against Cameroon in an international friendly match on Saturday, 10 January at the Stade de L’amitie in Libreville, Gabon.
SAFA Media sat down with Bafana Bafana coach Ephraim Shakes Mashaba to discuss that match and other matters.
Matlhomola Morake: What can we expect from the Mali clash?
Ephraim Mashaba: First of all it is great that we are coming to the end of our stay here in Gabon and we are now preparing to move out to Equatorial Guinea. Let’s start with the Cameroon match. Before that game we had good preparation sessions and enjoyed good facilities here in Libreville. Now we are faced with our last match here, which is Mali.
We can only hope they give us a run for our money, that is why we selected them because with the Cameroon match gone, we already know what to expect when we get to the tournament. We are really hoping that Mali comes strong as Cameroon, and not come here and treat it as a training match.
But I know that when two nations meet it has never been a friendly, there is a lot at stake – the question of pride is number one. But we are looking forward to that match as that is the last game to show what kind of team we have. I think our planning here in Gabon was spot on as we achieved everything we wanted to achieve in terms of acclimatization, weather and it is also a 45-minute flight from here to Equatorial Guinea so not too much to travel and not much difference between the two countries weather-wise, and the time difference is the same.
MM: You said there were some concerns from the Cameroon game, were you able to sort them out ahead of the Mali clash?
EM: The biggest problem we had was not only in this match but has been going on for some time now dating back to the Zambia match. The problem is that when we start a match our players go to sleep, we start playing after 10 or 20 minutes, but now the challenge is that if we get a team that scores early we will find ourselves in big trouble.
It happened against Cameroon when we gave a silly set piece in front of goals and we were punished and at that time Cameroon were dominating and dictating terms for us as our boys had switched off by then. We only started playing the last 10 or 12 minutes and were all over them, even came close to scoring.
In the second half things went well after our discussion in the dressing room. We spoke to the boys and will also work on it at our last training session today. We are happy though with the result from the Cameroon match because it gave the boys confidence and kept the momentum going because Cameroon is one of the favourites in the tournament.
MM: Ayanda Gcaba, what can we expect?
EM: We are also grateful that the player that is coming in. Maybe he will be fatigued from travelling, but we will throw him in against Mali and see how he is looking in terms of level of fitness and how he fits in the team.
In terms of his selection, we looked at him thoroughly and we realised that he played all the CAF Champions League matches at Orlando Pirates and that means he will be bringing in some experience to our squad. Secondly he is a utility player – central defence and left-back – and he is a player who competes, doesn’t chicken out of tackles. I think our selection of the player is spot on.
MM: Some injuries creeping in into the team, three players did not train yesterday….
EM: It was a little bit scary, we are at a time when we shouldn’t be getting such, even if it were a slight knock because it disturbs and distracts the plan as it would mean some players would have to sit without training.
But what we have done was to sit with the medical team who guided us as to what to expect as we continue – in terms of how much work we need to give to the players ahead of the tournament and we have come up with a new programme. Resting is also an important part of preparation.
MM: Will the trio play against Mali?
EM: Yes some of them will play because we have to be careful that we are not carrying dead bodies to the tournament. We have to try them here and see how do they react, just give them a short run. Are they still sore or getting better? We have to know which players we are going to have for the tournament because I can tell you the Mali game will be tougher than the Cameroon match.
MM: Any changes to the starting line-up?
EM: Yes we would love to play all these players because they are here to come and play, they are not here as fringe players. We will make changes like we did in the Cameroon match. I know people will expect players like Yeye (Reneilwe Letsholonyane) and (Eric) Mathoho to feature but they are suspended for the first match, but it does not mean we are sidelining them. They are training like everyone else in the team but we are now looking for combinations to play in the first match against Algeria in Mongomo.
MM: How much of a blow?
EM: It is a big blow because while we do have players to fill in their positions they are not the same in terms of how they exert themselves, how they think, how they carry themselves. But then again maybe it was the first time we used some players in those positions, which have been left vacant.
If you think back to the Cameroon match we pulled out Andile (Jali) to see how will the other players fit in, we changed goalkeepers to have a good look at what we have. But for now we have all the players on the same level until we announce the starting line-up against Algeria.