Uncanny Bafana undertones in Iran-Nigeria clash

Picture: AFP

As fate would have it, the two major candidates bandied about to succeed Gordon Igesund as Bafana Bafana coach, Carlos Queiroz and Stephen Keshi, will be in direct opposition when Iran and Nigeria face each other in their opening World Cup match at the Arena da Baixada Stadium in Curitiba on Monday.

Some fatalists see this as an omen and believe the direct confrontation between Queiroz and Keshi will have a significant bearing on who will eventually take on the troubled position of Bafana coach.

Both the highly experienced Queiroz, who has already enjoyed a spell with Bafana, and Keshi, who guided The Super Eagles to the Africa Cup of Nations title in South Africa last year, are brushing aside any link to South Africa after the World Cup.

When the question was posed to former Portugal, Real Madrid and assistant Manchester United manager Queiroz, he merely shrugged his shoulders.

“I am the coach of Iran and have a major undertaking on my hands. I have no time to think of any soccer matters beyond that right now.”

In spite of this diplomatic retort, Queiroz has reportedly met and spoken to SA Football Association (Safa) president Danny Jordaan on several occasions.

The former Portuguese coach brought his entire Iranian squad to South Africa for a period of World Cup preparation recently and has remained in the headlines regarding a possible return to the African continent.

The Jordaan-Queiroz link is undeniably strong the Safa president was also instrumental in bringing Queiroz to South Africa for his previous outing with Bafana.

Iconic former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson called Queiroz “the best coach I have ever worked with” in his book and there is a growing feeling that Queiroz will be the man tasked with qualifying Bafana for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations later this year.

Keshi, meanwhile, has expressed the highest respect for Queiroz.

“He is their main weapon,” said the Nigerian coach.

“He knows how to plan and plot a game and has enjoyed great success in tying up the opposition with tight defensive discipline.

“We do not know that much about the Iranian players. But with Queiroz at the helm it would be dangerous to under-estimate them and that is what I have drummed into my players.”

The Super Eagles are also intent on improving on a mediocre record in their two previous World Cup tournaments in which they won only two games out of six.

Their pivotal players are Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, experienced goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and long-time captain Joseph Yobo, who goes into the World Cup with 98 international caps.

The bookmakers have made Nigeria the favourites for the game in the south of Brazil, but few are ruling out the possibility of an Iran upset.

For most in Brazil, the Nigeria-Iran game is one of the more low-key first round games in the World Cup, but not for South Africans.

The outcome is unlikely to be a deciding or decisive factor in deciding he next Bafana coach, but if Iran gain a stunning upset, Safa could be pushed in the Queiroz direction.

Meanwhile, Curitiba suffered floods that resulted in 13 000 people having to evacuate their homes only 10 days before the Iran-Nigeria game. Nine people died in the downpour.

The flooding is now seemingly under control. But for South African soccer fans, there will remain a down-pouring of interest in the Queiroz-Keshi clash.


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