Bafana coach Ntseki leans towards caution and experience in Ghana
Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki has said he will opt for experienced campaigners and a cautious approach against Ghana in South Africa’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Gold Coast on Thursday.
Crucially, perhaps, Ntseki has back his fullbacks – Thamsanqa Mkhize and Sifiso Hlanti – who starred as Bafana reached the quarterfinals, shocking hosts Egypt in the last 16 at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in June and July.
Ntseki, in his first match in charge in last month’s 2-1 friendly win against Mali in Port Elizabeth, had both Afcon fullbacks injured.
He opted for the attacking Thapelo Morena and Innocent Maela, who were key to the victory on the overlap. Mkhize and Hlanti offer greater experience and are defensively stronger, which makes their return timely for an away game against the Black Stars.
Niggling injuries to right-backs Mkhize and Morena as Bafana departed OR Tambo International Airport on Monday night might also have a say.
Ntseki might have been tempted to opt for an attacking game plan, and a gamble, in what seems – with the top two teams progressing to Cameroon 2021 – a not necessarily must-win opening game to try to catch Ghana by surprise.
Seeming sensibly, the coach said he is more likely to base his team on the core of predecessor Stuart Baxter’s starting line-up at Egypt 2019.
“You are bringing back two very experienced players, who played very well in the Afcon in Mkhize and Hlanti,” Ntseki said on Monday.
“Them having not been in the camp last time, they gave an opportunity to Thapelo and to ‘Inno’ to do well for the team.
“But, we have a point [to lose, if Bafana cannot draw] as we speak. So it’s for us to protect that point.
“It’s for us to go out there and maybe during moments of the game try to take advantage and maybe win this match.
“But we are not going to go out there like we did against Mali, and pull out all the guns.
“We have to be very careful. Starting on the front foot can get us an early goal, and unsettle Ghana in Ghana. But at the same time if you give Ghana too much possession they can easily hurt you.
“They are at home, they will have the support and the confidence. So it’s a game where one has to be very cautious.
“We need to manage the phases of the game very well. That is why we are talking of players with experience, players who have been here before, players who have played at the highest level. I’m referring to the Afcon.
“These are the players who did very well against Egypt. These are the players who did very well against Nigeria in Nigeria [with a 2-1 win in the 2019 Afcon qulaifiers in Uyo in June 2017].
“So we are very careful in our approach. Our tactical strategy has to be that one of being protective, but at the same time we should not be dropping too deep and giving Ghana possession because they can always be dangerous.”
Lebogang Manyama came in as a late replacement for injured Mamelodi Sundowns star Themba Zwane ahead of SA’s departure.
After Ghana, Bafana return to meet Sudan at Orlando Stadium on Sunday.