Cape Town - Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba is on a mission to get his players more in touch with their supporters.
A relaxed and happy Mashaba walked through Canal Walk shopping mall in Cape Town on Tuesday -- together with the players and his technical team -- stopping regularly for photos and to sign autographs, in an attempt to get closer to their adoring fans.
“Those who were not there missed out on a good atmosphere," Mashaba said after the team’s final training session at Cape Town Stadium on Tuesday night.
“We’re trying to teach our players to respect the fans. Understand them, go close to them, talk to them and hear what is actually happening and what is it that they want.”
Bafana take on Nigeria in their second 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on Wednesday night, hoping for a repeat of last week’s dominant 3-0 win over Sudan in Khartoum.
Midfielder, Dean Furman, was spotted sharing a giggle with one of the mall’s cleaning staff, swapping roles for a moment as he took over the mop and posed for pictures. He was smiling and laughing as the wide-eyed cleaning lady looked on in amazement.
Mashaba said it was exactly those sorts of interactions which made the players aware of the admiration their supporters had for them.
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“If you don’t go there, you won’t know all those things. That is why we took the players and let them go and mingle with people. Some of them didn’t know how popular they are and they never knew how many people followed them,” Mashaba, who was the standout favourite among the throngs of people at Canal Walk, said.
“We took the players there to rub shoulders with the people and to listen to people’s needs. Let’s hope it paid dividends.”
Back to the game, Mashaba said he was pondering whether to make changes to his team, but ruled out making wholesale replacements following the success in the Sudan encounter.
“We need to be cautious, we are building up a team here. If you look at the cohesion, it’s not at its best.
“Yes, the Sudan game we won, but in the first half we struggled which is what we can’t allow to happen here.
“A big number of changes will cause us problems. Let’s look at starting with one or two changes. We need not make bigger changes because we still want these players to gel.”
Wrapping-up preparations at the final session on a flawless Cape Town Stadium pitch, Mashaba appeared to be undecided whether Furman would be in his starting line-up or not.
Kamohelo Mokotjo seemed to be preferred, but after a stellar performance in testing conditions in Khartoum, Furman seemed an obvious choice to start again in his home town.
Elsewhere, Sibusiso Vilakazi, who was the hero in Sudan scoring twice from the bench, looked to have successfully secured himself a starting role -- if Mashaba’s training was any indication.
Despite fielding a barrage of questions afterwards, Mashaba succeeded in the battle of wits and gave little away about his starting XI ahead of Wednesday’s 8pm kick-off.
“When you sit down and look at your player, it’s not easy to come up with the 11. That is why we decide to make announcements on the eve of the match, also the reason is that I want to sleep and rest,” the 64-year-old said with a grin.
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