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Soccer News Sat, 18 Jun 2005

Bafana's moment of truth

Johannesburg - Like the sands in an hour glass, the star quality in Bafana Bafana's ranks has systematically diminished as Saturday's crucial World Cup qualifying game against Ghana at the FNB Stadium approaches amid a growing degree of apprehension.

First to be lost in the process because of a suspension was the irreplacable goal-scoring flair of Benni McCarthy, to be followed in quick succession by confirmation of injuries to Sibusiso Zuma, Cyril Nzama and Bradley Carnell.

The loss of number one goalkeeper Hans Vonk as a result of a recurring back injury last weekend was viewed by many as the most serious blow of all.

But now comes the loss of Manchester United's Quinton Fortune with a long-standing knee problem flaring up again - and, to emphasise the growing crisis, top South African goalscorer Shaun Bartlett is rated a doubtful starter because of a strained muscle injury.

In the process, a game in which South Africans had expressed a good degree of optimism about reversing the 3-0 away World Cup qualifying defeat against Ghana has aroused growing concern, leaving coach Stuart Baxter with having to revise his strategy and planning almost by the day.

Notwithstanding these setbacks, the advantage accruing to Bafana by playing at home is not inconsiderable, with the Black Stars only arriving in South Africa in the early hours of Friday morning.

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For almost their entire squad, a view and feel later in the day of FNB Stadium was the first for almost the entire Ghana squad.

Home support vital

And the stimulant of playing in front of what is expected to be an emotional, high-charged, pro-South African crowd is certainly a factor that should see Bafana in good stead.

Also, despite the loss of many of their most important players, Bafana have retained a nucleous of strength in players like captain Aaron Mokoena, Ajax Amsterdam's Steven Pienaar, Benedict Vilakazi and a revitilised Mbulelo "OJ" Mabizela.

Whether Bafana will now have sufficient resolve and experience to account for world-class Ghana players like Lyon midfilder Michael Essien and Juventus goal-scorer Stephen Appiah is open to question.

But Bafana head the African Group 2 qualifying segment from which one team will go the Germany for next year's World Cup Finals with a telling three-point advantage over Ghana and the DRC at this stage and have the inviting motivation of knowing they could go a long way towards achieving their objective on Saturday.

Source: Raymond Yeboah(greathandsomebelle@yahoo.com)
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