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Keep calm and enjoy the experience

The tournament started out slowly for Bafana Bafana but with each game they have grown as a unit. They seem to have a renewed confidence and sense of belief, which bodes well heading into the business end of the tournament.

I feel that coming back twice from behind against Morocco was no mean feat. Whatever anyone says, it’s never easy for players to go into a game knowing they only need a point to advance. Often sides approach that type of match too cautiously, which gets them into trouble. Bafana, however, showed real fighting spirit and desire.

I believe there is more to come from Bafana, having qualified for their first Afcon quarterfinal in 11 years. If they are to progress further, their defending will certainly have to improve. There’s no way that Mali will miss two one-on-one situations like Morocco did in the last match.

For me it’s about increasing our concentration at the back and getting the centre-back pairing more organised and a lot sharper. What is most needed is an increased level of communication at the back and more improvisation in our game.

The side also has to really knuckle down and improve their defending at dead-ball situations in particular.

There is no disputing Itumeleng Khune’s pedigree. His shot-stopping and distribution is top notch but the one area of his game that needs the most work is when coming for crosses. He has to be more far more decisive and back himself in those situations.

From day one I have underlined the importance of Bafana staying in Durban for the knockout phase of the competition, as it means they don’t have to change their base, their training venue and their hotel. Durban has proved a happy hunting ground for the national side and the team gets terrific support there.

For me it was less about avoiding Ghana in the quarterfinals and more about remaining in the coastal city. Yes, Ghana finished top of their group and are going to be difficult opponents but they are not unbeatable. I feel that they have had a few lucky breaks in this tournament that no one else has really noticed or commented on.

Mali, who knocked out Bafana in the 2002 Afcon quarterfinals, are an equally challenging opponent. They possess big, physically-imposing men in their side and are dangerous from dead-ball situations.

Their key playmaker comes in the form of ex-Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita. Bafana have to take good care of him, as the majority of Mali’s play runs through the national captain. I’ve noted that almost every time Mali gets the ball, they look to feed their talisman. Therefore, I believe Bafana should really get stuck in and needle him, as he has the capability of getting sent off.

What’s key for Bafana is short inter-passing and getting behind the Malian defence at pace. The West Africans are big boys so Bafana must move them around and turn them about on the pitch. It’s key that Bafana identify space in behind them and employ the game plan we are most effective at, rather than playing to Mali’s strengths.

With Anele Ngcongca suspended, I believe Gordon Igesund will select Siboniso Gaxa at right-back. The current line-up is gelling nicely now and I would be reluctant to make many changes. The only other alteration I would advocate would be to replace Tokelo Rantie with Lerato Chabangu. At this crucial stage in the tournament it’s key to maintain continuity and reward the players for the positive results they have achieved.

In terms of mind set heading into the knockout phase, I believe the players should view it as a case of being only two games away from the final. They should enjoy the experience and give it their all as there’s no point holding back now or leaving anything in reserve. There’s only one result that matters now – a win.

In 1996, we were just a very confident team, so we took the feeling of invincibility into our quarterfinal clash with Algeria. I feel the game this Saturday will be an equally close affair. To win, South Africa will have to take their chances and defend well.

Keep a clean sheet and you at least give yourself a shot at winning the penalty shoot-out. I don’t mind if it’s another nerve-wracking game, as long as the players can keep their heads and come away with the win.

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