Many people have been surprised by Egypt exiting at the hands of South Africa last Friday. It was supposed to be a one-way affair. But football spirits and Gods work in a different way. Football major tournaments are full of examples of teams that struggled in group stages and then flourished in the knockout stages.
Everyone was impressed by South Africa’s superb victory over hosts Egypt, from fans, neutrals and to the opposition, as Egyptian fans’ applause showed. I, too, was extremely impressed by the team and their contribution. What was impressive about it was how Stuart Baxter set them up to close the strengths of Egypt, caging Salah and Trezeguet and exploit the vulnerability of Egypt’s slow defence.
I need to give credit to all the players from goalkeeper Ronwen Williams to striker Lebo Mothiba. Every single line was really impressive. Everyone contributed and everyone worked very hard in very difficult circumstances and conditions in front of 90,000 people.
All these players in South Africa are used to such environments. It is known territory for them, having previously played in front of full crowds. They were not intimidated, they did not freeze. They were unlocking their legs and expressing their emotions. They did all they could to close the strengths and exploit weaknesses. In return for their efforts they were rewarded with that Lorch goal that sent Egypt packing.
At Orlando Pirates we are extremely proud of Thembinkosi Lorch. He has worked extremely hard and not many people have seen his effort and sacrifice behind the scenes. He was not named Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season in South Africa by accident. He has a great attitude. He doesn’t talk big and he doesn’t sulk.
He has been brought up in a very good culture at Orlando Pirates where we respect the order. He was waiting for his chance in the team and he took that chance when it was given to him by Baxter. It was clear he was playing for himself, his family, his team and his country.
His goal was the cream on the cake. As I stated, we are extremely proud of him at Orlando Pirates. We are fully aware that his finish was not a fluke or an accident but an intention. We are the only team that has a finishing coach – Stephane Adams – that works specifically with the players on fine-tuning their finishing aspects. We insist on two-touch finishing at our club. We saw that in the cool way Lorch took his goal.
Training sessions, finishing work, his investment working in the gym, and his own hard work saw him repaid with the goal. The work has really paid off and it was repaid in the best way when he heard the silence of the home crowd in the 85th minute. Everything he has been working towards was showcased in the goal.
When Bafana Bafana come out of that field in Cairo they need to know that more than 60 million in South Africa and worldwide are behind them and supporting them spiritually. The fans will be hoping they are in the right mood and doing the right things against the Super Eagles.
They are facing a very good team in Nigeria that has had a very good start, then a shock awakening to Madagascar, a thrilling match against Cameroon where they came out eventual winners, and now come into this match full of conviction.
South Africa’s unbeaten record against the Super Eagles during 2019 AFCON qualifying, a win at home and a draw away, tells you that the small details will decide this match. Let each player contribute with iron defending and instigate sharp attacks.
We know the South Africa-based Nigerian No.1 Daniel Akpeyi, we know there are weaknesses in the Nigerian defence, and they are strong in midfield in attack. We know these things. What we don’t know is the outcome of the match.
Baxter’s side come into the match full of confidence with the room and self belief to upgrade their game. As South Africa showed against Egypt, one moment of brilliance could be enough to decide it.