Friday, December 1, 2023

World Cup hunger: Broos waves off travel fatigue, hails Bafana ‘warriors’ ready for Rwanda battle | Sport

Must read

  • Bafana Bafana head coach Hugo Broos praises players’ resilience in handling back-to-back qualifiers and emphasises their “warrior” spirit.
  • Broos remains optimistic about playing on synthetic grass in Huye, Rwanda, despite challenging travel schedules.
  • Bafana leads Group C after defeating Benin; Broos expresses confidence in the team’s mindset for the upcoming match against Rwanda.
  • For more sports news, go to the News24 Sport front page

One might expect considerable concern over the quick turnaround of playing two 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers within a span of three days.

However, Bafana Bafana head coach Hugo Broos expressed no qualms.

Instead, he lauded his players as “warriors” for navigating through such challenging circumstances, highlighting their resilience and adaptability in managing the demanding schedule of back-to-back matches.

South Africa beat Benin convincingly despite the slender 2-1 scoreline, courtesy of goals from Percy Tau and Khuliso Mudau, on Saturday at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, in which Broos himself was impressed with the crowd turnout of nearly 15 000-strong football-loving fans.

On Tuesday, Bafana faces a different threat as they take on Rwanda in Huye (formerly Butare).   

Following their clash with Benin, the team promptly journeyed from KwaZulu-Natal to Johannesburg. Then, on Sunday, they embarked on a lengthy five-hour flight to Rwanda, arriving around 21:00 in Kigali.

The arduous journey continued with a three-hour bus drive to Huye, with the team reaching their final destination at approximately 01:30 on Monday.

In contrast, Rwanda enjoyed the advantage of not having to travel for their initial match against Zimbabwe, which was a home fixture last Wednesday. This gave them a more comfortable six-day turnaround time, a notable contrast to South Africa’s condensed three-day turnaround time.

A deeper look at the scenario will make anyone think that this is a demanding travel schedule and adds challenge to their preparations for the upcoming match in Rwanda.

Broos remained optimistic about playing at the Huye grounds on synthetic grass and only questioned why the match could not be in Kigali.

“It was not an easy travel like it always is in Africa. I’m wondering why we have to play here in Huye, it’s not only the flight from Johannesburg to Kigali, but then we have to take a bus to arrive here,” Broos told SAFA media.

“There’s nothing wrong with synthetic grass. We had one in Liberia, and it was fantastic. It was a new generation [pitch], and we didn’t complain.”

Bafana defender Mudau, who scored his first national senior goal against Benin, echoed Broos’s sentiments.

“It was a long journey to be honest, but we are here to do the job,” said Mudau, also known by his moniker “Sailor”, who is used to playing frequently in back-to-back matches with Mamelodi Sundowns.

“We play every Wednesday and Saturday. I can say, I am used to playing back-to-back games. It is part of our job.”

Group C is already unfolding with distinct narratives.

Rwanda held Zimbabwe to a draw in their fixture, but the standout highlight was the surprising turn of events as Nigeria experienced two consecutive draws against Lesotho and the Warriors.

This puts Bafana already in a commanding position, sitting top of the group in the early stages of the qualification campaign, where each team will play 10 matches.

The winner gets to advance straight to the 48-team tournament, which will be jointly held between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

FACT: In the expanded World Cup format, Africa secures nine automatic slots, Asia has eight, North America claims six, South America also has six, Oceania holds one, and Europe commands the lion’s share with 16 slots. The remaining two slots will be determined through a complex play-off system where the four best-place runners up in the group stage will enter a mini-tournament.

Broos dismisses fatigue as a concern, asserting that he observes his players’ hunger to secure qualification. Bafana, who last played in the tournament when hosting it in 2010, have not directly qualified for the World Cup since the 2002 edition.

“The guys are showing me that they want to go to the World Cup and they want to go very far in that,” said Broos.

“Taking the travelling and bad pitch into consideration. They are grown-ups. In these kinds of situations, their mindset stays good.

“I don’t really worry about my team. I know they will be ready for tomorrow’s game. On such a pitch, anything can happen.”

Broos continued: “We need 11 warriors on the field. We don’t have to think about good football or nice football. We have to think about fighting. We will see how we are going to do it.”

Over the span of 22 Bafana matches under his guidance, Broos has clinched victory in 12, secured seven draws, and faced three defeats, boasting a commendable 54.2%-win ratio since setting foot in South Africa.

In this dynamic journey, his squad has found the back of the net 28 times, averaging 1.27 goals per match, while conceding 19 goals, maintaining an average of 0.86 goals conceded per match.

While orchestrating 13 camps, the 71-year-old tactician has called upon a total of 82 players during his tenure at the helm.

Acknowledging the evolution of his approach, he now emphasises a core group of players from which he selects, providing Bafana with a solid foundation for their endeavours.

“I’m very confident, and the confidence has grown over the last year,” said Broos.

“Every camp, I believe more and more. In the past, the team changed more but in the last camps [over the months] it’s nearly always the same players, so that means I as a coach have found my team.

“I have confidence in the team. Sometimes we don’t believe in our own qualities. I’ve said it a few times to the players that this is a quality group.”

Broos’s 64th-ranked South Africans are anticipated to triumph over the 140th-ranked Rwanda, the intriguing element lies in observing potential signs of fatigue when they step onto the field.

However, various factors may contribute to the well-being of Broos’s charges, who recently played in the scorching Durban heat.

Notably, the weather conditions in Huye could play a role.

With temperatures hovering around 22 degrees Celsius and 75% humidity, coupled with a 70% chance of rain, the climate might provide some relief and potentially influence the dynamics of the match.

Kick-off is at 15:00 (SA time).

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