litmus test for Bafana
LAUSANNE, Switzerland - The moment of truth has arrived for Bafana Bafana as they step up final preparations for the Confederations Cup with a tough friendly against Portugal in Lausanne tonight at 8.45.
This is one game many South Africans have been waiting for to see if their senior national team can really perform against some of the best teams in the world during the Festival of Champions in June and next year's World Cup.
Bafana Bafana may have retained the Nelson Mandela Challenge by defeating Norway 2-1 on Saturday, but it will be foolish to start singing the praises of coach Joel Santana, especially after they were badly exposed and embarrassed by Chile, who downed the 2010 World Cup hosts 2-0 in Polokwane on February 11.
It goes without saying that the game against the 10th ranked Portugal will be the first real test for Santana and the team since they disgraced South Africa by failing to qualify for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Angola, in October last year.
This is the first game against a team well inside Fifa's top 10.
Aaron Mokoena, Bafana Bafana captain, said the most important thing for them going into this game against Portugal, whose attack will be spearheaded by reigning Fifa World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, was to maintain their winning rhythm.
"After the terrible loss to Chile in Polokwane, we are happy that we managed to get a win by beating Norway. The expectations back home are naturally high, we are going all out for a good result," he said.
"We are happy Ronaldo and all the stars of Portugal are here, that is the kind of preparation we are looking for in the build-up to the Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup."
Portugal are guided by former South African coach Carlos Quieroz.
During their training session, Ronaldo and company were perfecting their finishing as if they were planning the mother of all defeats for the goal-shy South Africans, who are ranked 72nd by Fifa.
Ronaldo posed for photos for the fans at Stade Olympique de la Pontaise, mainly young women, and signed autographs but did not speak to the media.
Brazilian-born Pepe, another of Portugal's star players, said: "We have several new players, the game against South Africa is a great platform for our coach to try various combinations as part of our preparations for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. We are going for a win."
Quieroz, now sporting a beard, said: "For me there is nothing special going into this game against Bafana Bafana, we just have to score goals and win."
He is confident that Portugal will be in South Africa next year despite a goalless draw against Sweden on Saturday. Portugal are third in their group and in danger of failing to qualify.
South Africans will once more look to the midfield genius of Teko Modise and Steven Pienaar to turn the heat on the opposition as they did against Norway.
Propable Bafana Bafana team: Rowen Fernandez, Siboniso Gaxa, Tsepo Masilela, Nasief Morris, Aaron Mokoena, Teko Modise, Steven Pienaar, MacBeth Sibaya, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Katlego Mashego and Bernard Parker.
l The match will be broadcast live on SABC 1 at 9.30pm.