Clive Barker: Bafana Bafana rather face Sadio Mane than Lionel Messi

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Clive Barker - Maritzburg United
Bafana are bottom of Group D with four points, but two wins over Senegal will see them top the group and qualify for the finals in Russia

Retired football coach Cliver Barker believes Bafana Bafana’s hopes of securing a spot in next year’s Fifa World Cup rests on the shoulders of goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.

Khune only joined his teammates at training on Wednesday after shaking off his injury, and he's expected to play in a protective mask against Senegal.  

Speaking exclusively to Goal ahead of Friday’s encounter between South Africa and the Teranga Lions in Polokwane, Barker reminded Stuart Baxter’s boys that they have to win their next two games at all cost.     

“Tonight’s game means everything. For us to get a chance to play at the World Cup, we have to win both these matches. We’ve got to play Senegal away from home, and we’ve got to beat them. So, tonight is going to be even bigger because we have to get the three points, and I think we will do that,” Barker told Goal.

“I hope that Khune comes through his ordeal with a [face] mask that he’s going to wear – I think he’s a hell of a goalkeeper and the best user of the ball. So, if Khune plays then I think Bafana will win tonight,” he said.  

Barker, who is the first coach to steer Bafana Bafana to a Fifa World Cup tournament with a win over Congo in 1997, warned Baxter that he’s got to gamble and get the results.

“I think he’s going to try and make them relax as much as possible. Let them play off the counter as much as possible. If they do that and enjoy, then they will get something out of tonight’s game, but obviously it’s going to be over if we don’t win,” added Barker. 

“So, if Stuart is on the side of being committed, and obviously plays an extra player upfront then that is his choice and then of course we will be right behind him, but he’s got to gamble and he’s got to get the result tonight,” continued Barker.     

With Sadio Mane back from a long injury lay-off and in contention for Friday’s match, the majority of South Africans have been scratching their heads about the threat that the Liverpool attacker could pose to Bafana Bafana on the night.

However, Barker feels, as much as Mane is a great footballer, it is still possible to stop him, saying he’d rather come up against the Senegalese winger than face Lionel Messi or even Diego Maradona.

Group D log standings PS

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“It’s not impossible to stop Sadio Mane. I’d rather come up against him [Mane] than come up against Messi or Maradona. Of course he’s like a burning fire, but his confidence is affected a little bit at the moment [after the injury]. So, let’s see if we can't catch him throughout the time. And yes, he’s a great footballer and one of the best in Africa,” concluded Barker. 

Here's what Goal South Africa editor Ignat Manjoo has to add about stopping Mane, after watching him weekly for Liverpool.

"Bafana Bafana will have to defend deeply, push the defenders back. This will be difficult because teams with Stuart Baxter's style usually keep a high-line and the off-side trap is important to them. However they will be dicing with death with Sadio Mane. He just needs to beat one of those traps and there's no way of catching him after that," Manjoo said.

"In modern football, you also use your wing-backs to attack, but we can't offer Senegal any space out wide as Mane would exploit it and punish us. SA has to win both games but we have to also be careful not to dig our own grave," he added.

"Ideally, we'd take the lead first because you don't want to play catchup with Senegal's pace on the counter attack. They will be the one's playing for a draw and that might work to our advantage if the visitors are negative in their approach. If we do take the lead, we have to try to breakup play as much as possible. Baxter exploits the transitions. So, he would know himself how crucial this is. Whenever Senegal has a counter, we have to use spoiling tactics and stop their flow. This might mean we'd have to sacrifice a few players suspension records with yellow cards but it's going to be easier to give away free kicks outside the danger zone than to have them running at Bafana Bafana," explained Manjoo.

"I'm sure Baxter has watched videos of our initial victory against Senegal. Even though the referee was proved to be corrupt, SA played very well on the day and I believe they could've won anyway. It's a pity that the referee spoilt what was a good performance with that controversial penalty. Otherwise we must also be careful because Senegal will be out for revenge this time and this game could be much tougher," concluded Manjoo.