There’s a new bounce in South Africa’s step and Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba, can take credit for that. Since his appointment, Bafana Bafana have not lost a single one of their official or friendly matches. Mashaba has brought his specialized touch to the Rainbow Nation, placing emphasis on youth and defensive solidity. Of 23 men that took part in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, just five remain and may be called veterans.
In the first four matches of qualification, South Africa did not concede a single goal, keeping clean sheets at home and away. The tragic murder of goalkeeper and captain Senzo Meyiwa, understandably shook the team, but they remain a resolute, stingy side that have the capability to shut out Africa’s best attacks.
The absence of centre-half Eric ‘Tower’ Mathoho, who is suspended for South Africa’s opening match, will surely annoy Mashaba, but should not pose too large a problem. Algerian defender Rafik Halliche’s status is questionable for this fixture, as he has only just started training after contracting a heel injury.
Halliche’s absence is good news for Tokelo Rantie who provides powerful running, and a directness that could trouble Gourcuff’s backline. Sibusio Vilakazi is another who with his pace and end product can hit Les Fennecs on the counterattack.
In a friendly against Tunisia last week, it was painfully apparent that Algeria’s largest weakness was transitional defending. Costly giveaways in midfield or defence translated into fast-break opportunities for the Carthage Eagles, who capitalized by targeting Algeria’s underbelly: the centre-back pairing.
It might, however, be difficult for South Africa to counter as much as they plan to because of the pitch in Mongomo. Mongomo’s stadium, has the shortest pitch of all four venues and the dimensions will ensure there is little space for South Africa’s pacy strikers to exploit.
Tactically, there will be no surprise for this match. Christian Gourcuff allowed a large media presence for each of his training sessions, and he has named the same starting eleven in every scrimmage match. He will play a 4-4-2, and he will try to monopolize possession in imposing his attacking philosophy.
But South Africa are comfortable with the underdog tag. Confidence is at an all-time high, after impressive results in pre-tournament friendlies. They will know they cannot win a possession tussle with Algeria, who are, perhaps, the best possession side in Africa.
There’s, therefore, very little mystery in the build-up to this match. Monday’s winner will be whichever side can properly execute their coach’s game plan.