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Build from the back, Bafana

While there were no log points gained from Bafana Bafana’s 2-0 win over Lesotho this past weekend, the match offered Gordon Igesund some crucial answers to his defensive headache.

I believe success for any football team is built on solid defence and, in truth, being forced to chop and change your backline is the last thing any coach wants to do.

At this point in time, Itumeleng Khune is the one continuous thread that runs through the Bafana backline. The newly-installed national skipper deserves credit for producing strong performances in spite of an ever-changing back four.

That said, I believe that Bafana have sufficient depth and versatility of personnel in order to make the best of a bad injury situation.

I’m confident that the defenders Gordon selects for Saturday will be able to keep their shape and mark their men tightly. Bafana simply cannot afford to neglect their defensive duties in this crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier against the Central African Republic (CAR) in Yaoundé.

Venturing into Africa is never easy, and despite what some may suggest, CAR are not a weak side. They showed in South Africa that they can handle themselves on offence and possess some hard-working midfielders who can hold their own.

In the reverse leg, CAR never sat back and while they lost 2-0, they would have taken positives from that performance. CAR will be determined to win this ‘home’ game and will offer both an attacking and physical approach. Make no mistake; they will be a hard nut to crack and will look to intimidate their ‘visitors.’

However, I believe that Bafana go into the game with a psychological edge as playing on neutral turf is significant. My sense is that the Cameroonian crowd may well get behind Bafana, which will give the players a big boost.

But Bafana must stick to the basics and not try to employ an attacking brand of football merely to please the crowd. They will be ill-advised, for example, to go all guns blazing from the first whistle. It’s crucial that Gordon advises his players to keep calm and composed in the opening 20 minutes of the match in particular.

The key is to build up patiently from the back. Bafana must under no circumstances leave themselves exposed in the last line of defence and susceptible to the counter-attack.

Bafana’s backline must remain disciplined on defence and organised in approach. While our fullbacks often enjoy getting forward and overlapping on the flanks, I believe this is not the best strategy for this encounter.

I would therefore select Tebogo Lagerman ahead of Ricardo Nunes at left back, as the latter has, at times, found it tough to curb his attacking enthusiasm. I would select Anele Ngcongca on the right side of defence, while I believe the centre-back pairing of Thabo Nthethe and Eric Mathoho would best serve Bafana.

The term ‘winning ugly’ is fitting in this scenario. While goals often win games, an overly offensive approach can prove counter-productive. For me, the first criteria for Bafana on Saturday is not to concede a goal.

If that proves to be the case, even if your front men are not firing on all cylinders, you give yourself a chance of attaining a positive result.

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