Panthers test for Bafana Bafana
South Africa will look to get back to winning ways when they host Gabon in an international friendly at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Friday night, kick-off at 20h30.
While most of the rest of the continent prepares themselves for this weekend’s resumption of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, Bafana Bafana, who will be the host team at the tournament, begin a lengthy road of preparations.
Having failed to win either of their first two 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers – SA drew 1-1 with both Ethiopia and Botswana over the previous two weekends – it is up to caretaker coach Steve Komphela to get the team back onthe right track.
Facing a Gabon team that, as co-hosts, reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year will be a good test to gauge the level Bafana need to reach in order to be competitive at their own AFCON tournament in a few months’ time.
The Panthers are ranked ninth on the African continent and 49th overall, almost 20 places higher up FIFA’s official ladder than South Africa. They are also in decent form, having drawn away to Niger before defeating Burkina Faso 1-0 to hand themselves a good start to their 2014 qualification campaign.
This will be the first friendly meeting between South Africa and Gabon. The national teams have met in three previous competitive matches around the turn of the century: two qualifiers for the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations (each side won their home match) and a group stage encounter in the finals themselves that was won 3-1 by Bafana Bafana.
South Africa have reduced their squad after the two World Cup qualifying matches, releasing Steven Pienaar, Katlego Mphela, Oupa Manyisa, Thanduyise Khuboni and Bongani Khumalo.
Gabon are bringing a strong squad to Nelspruit, including the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Levy Madinda and Bruno Zita Mbangoye, who all impressed in the Panthers’ run to the 2012 AFCON quarterfinals.