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Bafana must continue to box clever

What stood out for me from Bafana Bafana’s 3-0 win over the Central African Republic (CAR) was how well-organised the side were structurally. Bafana maintained a strong defensive shape and, even when possession was surrendered, the players showed ambition to win the ball back.

Bafana are prospering under Gordon Igesund’s guidance because they are playing a more direct style of football. This tactic should not be confused with route-one football, whereby a team simply employs the long-ball approach.

While the modern game entails maintaining possession, just as crucial is identifying game situations. For example, a successful forward pass only occurs when there is intelligent movement off the ball by the front men. Bafana’s transition play has improved markedly with Igesund at the helm. Under the mentorship of Pitso Mosimane, I felt the national side lacked direction, particularly in the final third.

I see similarities in the way Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana have played this season. Both Igesund and Stuart Baxter are smart tacticians and saw the benefit of speeding up their transition play and improving their efficiency on the counter-attack. Furthermore, it’s about playing in the right areas of the field at the right time.

That last point will prove most telling against Ethiopia on Sunday. Bafana have to box clever in this most crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier. The fact that the game is to be played at an altitude 800m higher than Johannesburg presents a significant challenge in itself. Most notably, players have to adjust their breathing rhythms and it’s crucial to conserve energy during the match.

Travelling with compression garments and training with them ahead of the encounter can somewhat assist but I believe that the best strategy is to arrive in Addis Ababa as late as possible. While I maintain the view that the team should arrive in the country within 24 hours of the match, I do understand that this is not always possible from a logistical standpoint. The team have opted to depart Cameroon on Friday.

From a playing perspective, the Ethiopians will present a challenging contest as they possess players built for stamina. What struck me most about the Black Lions during their Afcon 2013 campaign was how hard-working they were as a side. The never stop running at their opponents throughout the 90 minutes.

Ethiopia do not boast any big name superstars but all of their players are hard-running and never want for endeavour. This is the primary reason Bafana must maintain their shape and not allow themselves to be drawn to all parts of the field.

I believe Bafana can really hurt their hosts from dead-ball situations – the Ethiopians are not as strong defensively as they are offensively. If Bafana are able to get the Black Lions on the back foot and defending, then they will be able to dictate matters.

There will be a few tired bodies in the second half and thus it’s crucial to have some game-breakers on the Bafana bench. After 60 minutes, it would be wise to introduce players who can maintain the energy and shape of the side. A player such as Tlou Segolela could be the ace up Igesund’s sleeve. His pace has the potential to unlock the Black Lions’ backline.

The best form of defence is attack and while Igesund will instruct his players to be positive and chase the win, Bafana will have to keep compact and retain their structure.

Bafana must play with a measured approach but at the same time not show Ethiopia too much respect. While a strong side, the hosts are by no means one of the powerhouses of African football.

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