Igesund concerned over Soccer City pitch

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

Africa’s campaign.

”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.