South Africa to take aerial route
It could be a bumpy ride at Kumasi, with Big George set to play key role against Ghana BAFANA Bafana coach Stuart Baxter had plenty to worry about this week as he prepared his team for the crucial 2006 World Cup qualifier against Ghana in Kumasi this afternoon.
"The pitch in Kumasi is not one of the best in the world. But my main worry, of course, is Ghana, who will come out very buoyant," said Baxter.
Baxter had to find last-minute replacements for injured right winger Sibusiso Zuma and striker Shaun Bartlett, who could not join the party to Ghana because of his son's illness.
Baxter had to find a bumpy ground in Johannesburg similar to the one in Kumasi to let his troops get the feel of what to expect in Ghana.
Santos coach Boebie Solomons, whose team recently played against a Ghanaian side in Kumasi, met Baxter this week to discuss the Kumasi field.
But when all is said and done, Baxter has a Bafana side capable of at least emerging with a vital point.
"There were many positive signs in training this week and I thought the sessions were much more polished, intense and satisfying than the ones we had ahead of the Cape Verde match. The team I have is more balanced and there's enough cover for almost every position," he said.
"I pretty much have an idea of how we must try to get behind the Ghana defence. Obviously the surface won't allow us to play the ball on the ground. I expect 20% of our chances to come from open play, with the rest coming from set pieces."
A clear deduction from Bafana's training this week is that Baxter has a tactical plan tailor-made for tall striker George Koumantarakis.
"We are certainly not going there to lock up shop. I will be happy with a victory, but a draw wouldn't be a bad result," said the coach.
Baxter is happy that in Jacob Lekgetho he has a natural left-footed player able to offer support to winger Delron Buckley when going forward.
Nasief Morris, who played out of position against Cape Verde, will move to right back, with Mark Fish and Aaron Mokoena continuing as centrebacks.
If Baxter opts for a 4-5-1 formation he can still accommodate both skipper Mbulelo Mabizela and MacBeth Sibaya in a combative midfield, with Steven Pienaar playing behind lone striker Koumantarakis.
"I have plenty of options, but I will decide on the day of the match which one to go with."
Two players in Baxter's squad - Siyabonga Nomvete and Fish - were in Trott Moloto's side that beat Ghana 1-0, with Nomvete scoring the vital winner inside the first 45 minutes in an African Cup of Nations quarterfinal tie four years ago.
"I recall heading in a lovely cross that came from Bartlett. It will be nice to repeat that feat, although we understand that Ghana are desperate for a win after losing their first qualifier," said Nomvete.
Nomvete is fully aware he might start on the bench, but is hopeful of having a run even if he is played wide on the right or left.
"I enjoy taking on the defenders out wide because I can always cut inside, shoot at goal or deliver a cross. It's really up to the coach to decide on the role he wants me to play," he said.
Ghana have problems of their own, with injury ruling out Isaac Boakye and strikers Augustine Arhinful, and Charles Asamoah failing to arrive.
Mariano Barreto, Ghana's Portuguese coach, will deploy what is largely considered a second-string line-up, led by Ibrahim Tanko of German club SC Freiburg and Baffour Gyan of Russia's Dynamo Moscow.
Probable Bafana starting line-up
Calvin Marlin; Nasief Morris, Mark Fish, Aaron Mokoena, Jacob Lekgetho; Mbulelo Mabizela, MacBeth Sibaya, Steven Pienaar, Delron Buckley, Sibusiso Zuma; George Koumantarakis.