It’s in our hands – Bafana players

FOLLOW MY LEADER. Vuyo Mere leads his Bafana team-mates at the squad's training session. Picture: BackpagePix.

If you ask two of Bafana Bafana’s defensive stalwarts, Vuyo Mere and Thabo Nthethe, what the ultimate requirement against Nigeria here tomorrow night is to ensure qualification for the Chan knockouts, they’ll essentially give the same answer.

It’s about not conceding, especially the opening goal.

“We need to make sure we don’t let one in,” said Nthethe yesterday.

“If we manage to do that, we have a big chance of not only progressing, but also winning the game.”

There’s a good reason for Bafana being a tad conscious about the importance of their marking against the African champions – it’s generally been a bit wobbly in the tournament to date.

“Nigeria are a good side, although they have conceded some chances in the tournament to date due to their defence, so I think we can punish them in that department,” noted Platinum Stars skipper Mere.

“But as a defence we’ll also need to work hard because Nigeria are also doing their best to convert their chances. We saw that when they played Mozambique, so it’s going to be really important to aim for a clean sheet.”

In particular, the central defensive partnership between Nthethe and his more inexperienced colleague Buhle Mkhwanazi has been under the microscope for intermittent moments of uncertainty but Nthethe feels their association is growing.

“We have done badly to date. We are listening to each other and making sure we’re following our instructions.

“We took a lot out of the Mali game where Buhle and I were able to close their strikers down. Nigeria prefer the strategy of long throw-ins but I don’t think that’s going to be an issue we can’t deal with,” he said.

Ultimately though, Bafana’s biggest hurdle remains the question of whether they can deal with the substantial mental block of having only beaten Nigeria once in eight matches.

Mere, displaying the type of thoughts a leader would have on the issue, feels he and his team-mates can cope.

“It’s a tough game but the good thing about it is that it’s in our hands. We don’t need to expect favours from anybody else and that helps. We’re ready and are preparing well,” he said.

“What we need is leadership from everyone on the field. Itumeleng (Khune) is a great captain but we need to help him out and take responsibility. Everyone’s a captain.”

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