Hlompho Kekana explains why Bafana failed to play their quick-passing game

South Africa's midfielder Hlompho Kekana (C) is marked by Namibia's midfielder Petrus Shitembi (L) and Namibia's forward Peter Shalulile during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group D football match between South Africa and Namibia at the Al Salam Stadium in the Egyptian capital Ciaro on June 28, 2019.
South Africa's midfielder Hlompho Kekana (C) is marked by Namibia's midfielder Petrus Shitembi (L) and Namibia's forward Peter Shalulile during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group D football match between South Africa and Namibia at the Al Salam Stadium in the Egyptian capital Ciaro on June 28, 2019.
Image: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

The Africa Cup of Nations is a “different ball game”‚ midfielder Hlompho Kekana said while explaining why Bafana Bafana struggled to relax into their normal quick-passing game during their 1-0 win against Namibia at Al Salam Stadium on Friday night.

The scale of the Nations Cup‚ and the level of preparedness of every team after the new expanded 24-team tournament has finally been moved to the European and South African off-season‚ has been noticeable.

Bafana were structured in their 1-0 opening defeat against Ivory Coast on Monday‚ but their attack failed in searing late afternoon heat.

Under the pressure of a must-win game‚ South Africa were disjointed in the first half against Namibia‚ though their shape improved from the break‚ leading to more openings and Bongani Zungu's 68th-minute headed goal from Percy Tau's corner.

With the top two teams and four best third-placed finishers progressing to the last-16‚ three points might be enough.

But if Bafana lose against Hervé Renard's Morocco‚ who were terrifyingly good in dismantling Ivory Coast 1-0 in Friday's earlier game‚ at the Al Salam Stadium on Monday (kickoff 6pm) then the calculators will be out again.

“I think‚ more than anything it's a different ball game altogether. Because this is a tournament‚ and it's a big tournament‚” Kekana said explaining that Bafana's nervous play so far at Egypt 2019.

“Look‚ we are happy to be here‚ we just want to learn and try to make sure we win our matches. More than anything it's to try and do it for ourselves‚ because‚ really‚ we came all the way to come and play here.”

Kekana came in for the injured Dean Furman in Bafana's central midfield‚ where Zungu also replaced Kamohelo Mokotjo in a tactical switch.

Darren Keet came in between the posts for Ronwen Williams and Sibusiso Vilakazi replaced Lebohang Maboe in the frontline‚ as Percy Tau was pushed out to the right wing.

Bafana did show greater confidence on the ball after Zungu's goal‚ which could be a positive sign ahead of an intimidating meeting against Morocco.

“For sure‚ we just want to loosen up a bit and lift the morale very high because we really needed this win‚” Kekana said.

“We've been hard on ourselves because of the match we played against the Ivorians. It was only one mistake that led to Ivory Coast scoring against us. To be honest I think we'd stand a chance of winning that match if we played it again.”

Kekana has his share of meetings against highly structured‚ physical‚ precise North African teams.

The Mamelodi Sundowns skipper and 2016 Caf Champions League winner has notably had many recent tussles against Morocco's 2017 winners of that club competition‚ Wydad Casablanca.

“It's going to be a very emotional performance that we have to give against Morocco because the North Africans play a very technical game‚" Kekana said.

“And I think more than anything we just want to plan well against them and try to make sure that we deny them the opportunity to be in our half. I've got confidence in the guys. Because we've got smart players up-front who can turn their defenders.”

Morocco have qualified for the last-16 with six points‚ but Renard has said while he may rest players who need refreshing‚ he wants at least a point against Bafana to ensure the Atlas Lions finish top of the group.

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