• Monday, May 27, 2024
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BusinessDay

World Cup Qualifier: South Africa coach worried over players’ fitness ahead of Nigeria showdown

Hugo Broos (1)

South Africa head coach, Hugo Broos, is sweating over the fitness of key players of Bafana Bafana, many of whom come from Mamelodi Sundowns, ahead of crucial FIFA 2026 World Cup qualifiers against  Nigeria’s Super Eagles and Zimbabwe in June.

The majority of the Bafana Bafana squad is drawn from Mamelodi Sundowns, and with the team playing in various competitions, including the CAF Champions League, fatigue could be an issue.

Despite this concern, South Africa sees an opportunity to qualify for their first World Cup since 2002, especially with Nigeria starting poorly in Group C.

Bafana are on three points in Group C and could have been in a better position than second-place Rwanda (four points).

Bafana started with a 2-1 home win against Benin but lost 2-0 away against Rwanda. South Africa will aim to capitalise on their strong showing at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast where they won Bronze earlier in the year to get positive results against the Super Eagles of Nigeria in Uyo on June 7 and Zimbabwe in Bloemfontein on June 11.

The upcoming matches against Nigeria and Zimbabwe present a chance for South Africa to assert themselves in the group standings.

The winners of the nine groups qualify for the first 48-team World Cup in Mexico, Canada and the US.

Broos’ reliance on Sundowns’ players during the Nations Cup underscores their significance within the team, with at least seven featuring in the starting lineup.

Beyond their talents, Sundowns’ dominance in the Premier Soccer League is evident, and their regular participation in the knockout stages of the CAF Champions League has further strengthened their mettle.

However, as Broos prepares for the upcoming qualifiers, he faces concerns about the toll of Sundowns’ packed schedule. By the end of the season, they will have played a staggering 58 games across six competitions, including multiple continental tournaments and a Nedbank Cup final shortly before the crucial match against Nigeria.

While the Sundowns’ players have demonstrated resilience, as seen during the Nations Cup, the sheer volume of matches and associated travel pose challenges.

Broos will be hoping for a national team that remains resilient and avoids exhaustion as they navigate through the demanding June fixtures.

While Sundowns’ players are accustomed to the demands of competitive football, having played numerous matches and navigated through multiple tournaments, Broos remains wary of potential exhaustion.

The tight schedule, including a Nedbank Cup final for Sundowns just days before the Nigeria match, adds to Broos’ concerns.

Despite the challenges, Joshua Smith, a former member of the Bafana coaching staff, believes that the Sundowns players’ experience in high-pressure situations will serve them well.

“I don’t think there will be a problem with motivation,” Smith said.

“Having such a strong core of that group being Sundowns players who have played consecutively in the Champions League [each year], so they understand the demands of back-to-back congested football, you’ve got a very strong group of players there.

“They have built that chronic fitness where they’ve got this loading profile throughout many seasons, so this is not going to be a shock to their systems.

However, he emphasizes the importance of careful management to ensure that the players remain fresh and avoid burnout during the crucial qualifying matches.

“The biggest thing will be management. They [Bafana’s fitness and conditioning staff] will have to make sure the type of physical stuff these players do when they get into camp focuses on keeping them fresh, reducing residual fatigue, making sure you’re getting the most out of them versus trying to do anything to improve fitness.”