Injuries aggravate South Africa's serious problems
South Africa has lost midfielders Kagisho Dikgacoi and Lerato Chabangu for Wednesday's crucial African Cup of Nations game against Angola, the latest in a series of injury setbacks for the tournament host.
Crystal Palace's Dikgacoi had a knee problem which flared up again and Chabangu hurt his groin, having injected a glimpse of much needed urgency for the struggling Bafana Bafana in the second half of Sunday's poor 0-0 draw with Cape Verde to start Group A.
''It's unfortunate, whenever a player is injured, it's a blow,'' coach Gordon Igesund said on Tuesday, ''but we have enough depth in the team and have to get on with it.''
Desperately short of midfield creativity and attacking threat at Soccer City against the inexperienced Cape Verdeans, the host's hopes of avoiding a humbling first round exit may now rest with striker Katlego Mphela and Ajax winger Thulani Serero - neither of whom are fully fit.
The pair played some part in the second half at Soccer City, but Mphela is out of shape after a lay off and Serero, Igesund said after the opening game, is struggling to play more than 35-40 minutes after his own injury problems.
South Africa's challenge is quickly unraveling at its home Cup of Nations and the team's struggles may have a knock-on effect for the tournament if fans become disheartened and stay away.
Also playing on the players' minds, Igesund said, is constant talk of the 1996 South African team, which won the African Cup on home soil the last time the country hosted the event.
''The expectations are very high and there's a lot of pressure on the team at the moment,'' Igesund said in Durban, where South Africa must beat Angola on Wednesday to get back on track. ''There's a lot of talk about the `96 squad, it's right in our faces all the time.
''All of a sudden, from nowhere it's come. It's something that wasn't there and shouldn't be there.''
Igesund hoped that being in the east coast city of Durban and away from the footballing hub of Johannesburg would take the pressure off his nervous and underperforming players. But another planned public appearance in Durban this week by some of the players from '96, who South Africans still refer to as ''legends,'' won't help.
South Africa has won three of its nine games under Igesund and hasn't scored in its last three, an attacking impotency that was fiercely criticized by public opinion on Sunday.
Mphela and Serero may now be Igesund's last hopes.
''My fitness is OK now,'' Mphela said this week. ''If I'm picked and I start against Angola, then I think I'm more than ready. I'm prepared to step up to the plate and try to obviously get what we need, which is goals.''