Gordon Igesund was concerned over the Soccer City pitch on
Thursday ahead of South Africa’s African Cup of Nations opener,
another worry for the under-pressure coach of the sluggish home
Coach Igesund took time to inspect the field as hosts Bafana
Bafana trained for Saturday’s first game against tournament
debutant Cape Verde.
Igesund didn’t comment to pitch-side media but he was clearly
unhappy at areas of patchy grass and two chunks of re-laid turf in
front of one goalmouth at the showpiece stadium.
His apparent fears that the pitch would hamper South Africa’s
passing game against the unknown threat of Cape Verde was eased by
the stadium managers, who said it was a ”top-class, world-class
pitch” and had no problems in a FIFA inspection on Tuesday.
Soccer City will host only the opening game and final at the
African Cup, but had trouble keeping the grass in a good state in
the past after the venue was used for concerts.
The issue of the pitch has been a sore point in South Africa,
with local media picking it out as another example of the host
country’s sometimes hurried preparation for this African Cup.
The team, Igesund conceded regularly in the buildup, also didn’t
have enough time to prepare.
”Time has obviously been a factor for everybody,” Igesund said
on Thursday, referring to all coaches.
For the field, Stadium Management chief executive Jacques
Grobbelaar said that apart from a small amount of ”aesthetic”
work to be done before Saturday, ”we have got one of the best
pitches available in the world.”
With his team in mediocre form and with little known about
opponent Cape Verde, the pressure was already mounting on Igesund
within South Africa to ensure Bafana made a winning start against
the cup first-timers.
To do that, Igesund has kept his first-choice team for the cup a
closely guarded secret to avoid giving Cape Verde a chance to
analyze it. Home media aren’t even certain who will start South
”If I’ve thrown a few curve balls here and there, it’s because
I had to do it,” Igesund said at Soccer City, adding he was happy
to have ”foxed” them.
The squad had given up bonus payments until the quarterfinal
stages, captain Bongani Khumalo said, in an attempt to win over
wavering home fans uncertain what their team will serve up on
”We’re here to fight for our country,” Khumalo said. ”The
perception has always been the players have been a bit selfish. The
guys have shown great courage (to give up bonuses).”
Igesund also said his team would ”handle the (public)
pressure,” and a near-90,000-strong crowd demanding an opening
”It’s not the pressure that you can’t handle, when you go home
and can’t sleep and you’ve got to take tablets,” Igesund said.
”It’s exciting. You want to do well. You want to please people.
You want to make the country proud.”
South Africa hasn’t qualified for the last two African Cups but
won the tournament on home soil in 1996 in the midst of
post-apartheid nation building, leading home fans to expect another
fairytale ride to the final 17 years later.
”It’s not going to be easy … but I think we’re very
capable,” Igesund said.