New dawn for Bafana amid nostalgic Ghana return
Ask a man to chose between his child and someone else, it's not something he has to think about for too long. Ask the same man to choose between his own child and his adopted one and he may not want to watch the contest at all. That's one of the reasons one can think of to explain why only a third of the tickets for the friendly between Bafana Bafana and Ghana had been sold by the weekend.
The administrators claimed that the Telkom Charity Cup, South Africa's version of the Community Shield which was played on Saturday, was the reason for slow sales. More people packed Soccer City on that day than they did for the World Cup final. More than 87, 000 people were present, compared with the shave over 84,000 on July 11. The tickets were a mere US $15 for the most expensive ones compared with the US $20 for category four tickets during the World Cup.
Tickets for the friendly on Wednesday are also set at US $15 and while only thirty odd thousand of them have been sold for the 8.35pm kick-off (local time), perhaps the masses are still coming. These were the same masses that held the Black Stars so close to their hearts that they even gave them a new name - BaGhana BaGhana - during the World Cup, and the same masses who felt a cruel injustice had been done to them when Milovan Rajevac fell at the quarter-final hurdle.
Many of those beloved Black Stars will be making the trip to South Africa. The likes of Richard Kingson, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan will all be back at Soccer City to attempt to exorcise the demons of the painful penalty shootout defeat to Uruguay. The Ghanaian side is still without Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari, while Stephen Appiah and John Pantsil have been left out.
The match presents Ghana with an opportunity to carry the momentum from a hugely positive World Cup campaign. They moved up nine places, from 32nd to 23rd in the FIFA world rankings and are still considered the second-best team in Africa, behind Egypt. This match will be used as preparation for their 2012 African Nations Cup qualifiers, in which the Black Stars play Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Swaziland. The toughest of their opponent is likely to be Sudan, who are ranked a massive 98 places below Rajevac's side.
For Ghana, this match will surely be more about nostalgia than anything else. They're travelling back to the country where they equalled Africa's best result at a World Cup and where they gained so many fans. Of course, they won't want to be defeated and have the bubble of their recent success rudely burst, but they won't see this as a crusade of any sort.
South Africa, on the other hand, have far more at stake. They had a reasonable World Cup, considering they had been hotly tipped to offer an embarrassing showing, and though it was disappointing in results terms, Bafana showed promise. Now, they have a new coach at the helm and even though this is not Pitso Mosimane's first time in charge of the side, it is his first, real test. Mosimane took charge of the team on a caretaker basis before Carlos Alberto Parreira arrived and his record stands at one loss from seven games.
Those results have gone unnoticed in the build up to the Ghana friendly, as Mosimane is only now really being recognised as the man in charge. His first actions as national coach were predictable and expected. He selected a similar side to the one that flew the flag at the World Cup, stressing that he needed continuity. Mosimane has also indicated that most players would get a run during the match so he can assess what level they are at.
Somewhat surprisingly, Aaron Mokoena has kept his place in defence. There were calls for the captain to retire after the World Cup, with everyone from fans to the ruling African National Congress' youth league criticising his performance and the costly mistakes he made during the tournament. Morgan Gould, who was injured during the tournament, is the only unfamiliar face to foreign fans while Siyabonga Sangweni and Bevan Fransman make up the other central defenders.
What Mosimane does up front will also be interesting. Kaizer Chiefs' striker Sthembiso Ngcobo is in the squad after receiving the second call up of his career. The 27-year old famously failed to pitch to a training camp in February last year when he was included in the squad to face Chile in a friendly. He has been given a second chance and is one of three strikers along with Bernard Parker and Katlego Mphela. Former coach Carlos Alberto Parreira came under fire for often using just one striker in his starting line up and South Africa's goalscoring problems were well documented.
At the World Cup, Bafana found the back of the net three times, first in the opening game through Siphiwe Tshabalala and against France through Bongani Khumalo and Mphela. With goals an obvious and long time problem for the team, it may be in Mosimane's interests to recall top goal scorer Benni McCarthy. He resisted this time, but didn't close the door completely, saying that if needed McCarthy would be called up.
That shouldn't have pro-McCarthy supporters getting too excited. Mosimane is a straight talking man and made it clear that his long term focus is the World Cup. He said older players would be use only if he thought they could help with AFCON qualifying. The match against Ghana will be used as a preparation for that, with South Africa's first qualifier taking place against Niger next month.
Many see this clash as a baptism of fire for Mosimane, but in reality, it's not. Ghana have so enamoured themselves to South Africans that if they beat them, it can't be seen as a tragedy. Ghana are ranked 66 places above Bafana, so again, while South Africans want their team to win, they'll more than likely understand if they don't. Perhaps there'll only be thirty-odd thousand people in the stadium to see the result anyway.