Gabon stalk Bafana - Can SA stop rot?
FORTY-ninth-ranked Gabon will provide Bafana Bafana with one of their stiffest tests this year in tomorrow night's friendly international at Mbombela Stadium.
The South Africans need a win to avert equalling their longest winless streak of nine matches. But in the west African Panthers they will find a team confident from their impressive run to the quarterfinals of the Africa Cup of Nations finals as co-hosts in January and February and who are ranked almost 20 places above the South Africans (68th).
Gabon are ranked ninth in Africa and come into the game on the back of a good start to their World Cup qualifying campaign, with a 1-0 home win against Burkina Faso and goalless away draw against Niger over the past two weekends.
In contrast Bafana began their campaign with disappointing 1-1 draws at home to 130th-ranked Ethiopia and away against 116th-placed Botswana.
Like most west African national teams, the Gabonese squad comprises players who are almost all based in Europe, even if it's not always in the top leagues. These include three stars of the 2012 Afcon co-hosts, who won all three of their group matches (2-0 against Niger, 3-2 against Morocco and 1-0 against Tunisia) before losing 5-4 on penalties in the quarterfinals against Mali.
France-based forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was among the top scorers of the Afcon with three goals. Spain-based Levy Madinda, who plays for Celta Vigo B, featured strongly in all the Gabon games. Bruno Zita Mbangoye, of Belarussian club Dinamo Minsk, scored the spectacular free-kick with the last kick of the game in the victory that knocked Morocco out of the tournament and saw the Panthers through to the quarters.
"It is going to be an uphill battle, one of those games where we are going to have to fight to get on top of the hill," said Bafana Bafana central defender Morgan Gould, who scored his first international goal against Botswana.
The former SuperSport United player, who signed for Kaizer Chiefs just before South Africa's poor start to the qualifiers for Brazil 2014, said Bafana's run of seven draws and a defeat has been frustrating for the players.
He said poor finishing was the main reason for South Africa's inability to win matches, which cost coach Pitso Mosimane his job.
"We try very hard to win matches, and we are not happy the results are not coming," he said.
l Tomorrow's match kicks off at 8.30pm.