Bafana takes foot off the pedal after intensive preparations as Afcon opener with Ivory Coast looms large

21 June 2019 - 15:17 By MARC STRYDOM IN CAIRO
Bafana coach Stuart Baxter and assistant coach Mark Fish during a training session at Steyn City on June 5 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Bafana coach Stuart Baxter and assistant coach Mark Fish during a training session at Steyn City on June 5 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter stepped up the intensity of his training sessions during gruelling work in the heat of Dubai and Cairo in preparation for their Africa Cup of Nations opener against Ivory Coast on Monday.

By all accounts‚ the South Africans pushed themselves in extreme heat in Dubai last week and are now in the more bearable conditions of Egypt's mid-summer‚ where temperatures are consistently around 40 degrees Celsius during the day.

With most of the work done‚ Baxter said he will now take the foot off the gas a little bit ahead of Monday's second match of Group D at Cairo's 30‚000-seat Al Salam Stadium (kickoff 4.30pm).

Morocco and Namibia open the group on Sunday at the same venue.

Baxter admitted that Bafana's friendly match setbacks, after Safa were unable to arrange a match in the Johannesburg and when Angola pulled out of a warm-up in Cairo on Wednesday four hours before kickoff‚ means their preparations have not been perfect.

But the Confederation of African Football's rescheduling of the Nations Cup to the European and South African off-season has at least made the normal club-versus-country squabbles a thing of the past.

Bafana will have had a good three weeks' training‚ plus a 0-0 friendly draw against Ghana last week in Dubai‚ by the time they meet Ivory Coast.

“Every training has been sharp‚ it's been good in the heat. We worked really hard in Dubai and now we feel like we've come here and we feel like this (heat condition) is quite pleasant‚” Baxter said.

“We've been putting in a lot of good work. Some of the training days have disappeared because of logistics. And the game against Angola disappeared‚ which we weren't happy with.

“But we rocked up‚ we had an internal game with the Egyptian referees. And we had full security with riot police‚ and we were playing against each other. The strikers all scored goals. There were good intentions all-round. And I think the players responded well.

“We've found now that the scores on the GPS and the doctor's reports are saying that the lads need to freshen up a bit. So we're going to take almost 48 hours and do more pool work and do tactical work‚ and a bit more in the meeting room. Before we then have a really good tactical training before the Ivorian game‚ and a pre-match on our training ground.”

“All in all‚ despite all the challenges‚ I think the lads have put in a good shift and by the time the kickoff comes I think we'll be ready for it."

After Ivory Coast‚ Bafana meet Namibia on Friday‚ June 28‚ then Morocco on Monday‚ July 1‚ with all their Group D games at Al Salam Stadium.