Mothiba backs Bafana to keep out Ivorian stars

Lebo Mothiba of South Africa celebrates scoring a goal with Percy Tau during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification match between South Africa and Seychelles at FNB Stadium on October 13, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Lebo Mothiba has been able to give Bafana Bafana some inside knowledge about the Ivory Coast, who they play in their 2019 Africa Cup ofNations Group D opener on Monday night.

The 23-year-old striker has been plying his trade in French football since 2014, with the French leagues a place where so many Ivorians also ply their trade.

Six members of the Ivorian squad in Egypt play in France’s Ligue 1, including star striker Nicolas Pepe, who played with Mothiba at Lille, before the South African moved to Strasbourg at the start of this

“Some players in the Ivory Coast side, I used to play with, and some I have played against,” said Mothiba on Saturday at the Bafana team hotel.

“Especially Pepe, I used to play with him at Lille. Pepe is a very good player, he is fast, and good technically. I played with him for a year and I know his quality and that is what I am going to tell the center-backs. We have to be careful and look at him, but the coach (Stuart Baxter) is doing a good job with that, telling the defence and everyone to be careful.”

Of course, Pepe is far from the only threat the Ivorians possess in the attack, and they should have plenty of pace down both flanks, with Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha also in the mix.

“The coach is working with us at training, on how to close them down, how to close space … they have Pepe and … Zaha, but the coach is aware of that and is working without centre backs. Also, our centre backs are fast .. and strong, so I think we are going to do well defensively.”

At the other end, Bafana are likely to rely on Mothiba for goals, and on his budding partnership with another Europe-based star, Percy Tau.

“Me and Percy talk a lot, we always make jokes and communicate, here at the hotel, even at training. Up front we have a good relationship, but it depends, also Lars (Veldwijk) has a good relationship with us,
he is very good in front of goal. All of us communicate well and understand each other.”

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