It's a must-win game for Bafana
BAFANA Bafana return to Mbombela looking to exorcise the demons of the past 10 months during which they have suffered a serious decline.
Coached by Steve Komphela, Bafana will also be seeking redemption following their poor run of late when they host Gabon in a friendly international at the Mbombela stadium tonight.
It was at this venue that the national team suffered the embarrassment of misreading the rules, with the players dancing and celebrating a false 2012 Afcon qualification triumph. Their belief that a goalless draw against Sierra Leone would ensure qualification for the Nations Cup proved misguided.
Memories may have faded, but emotions still linger - especially after Bafana's continued poor run since.
Should they falter against Gabon, Bafana would equal their longest winless record of nine games, which came under Stuart Baxter in 2005. That outcome seems extremely possible given the low morale in the Bafana team following successive draws against Ethiopia and Botswana in their two recent World Cup qualifiers.
Before the debacle against Sierra Leone, the team had performed satisfactorily, even chalking up a significant victory against Egypt.
But it's been a downward spiral for Bafana ever since.
Even though coach Pitso Mosimane is gone, the problems afflicting Bafana have not. Caretaker coach Komphela still grapples with the team's inability to score.
Without five key players, who include skipper Steven Pienaar, prime striker Katlego Mphela, midfielders Oupa Manyisa and Thanduyise Khuboni, and defender Bongani Khumalo, Bafana will be thin in experience.
But the quintet's withdrawal is welcomed by younger players, who haven't had opportunities since the national team's camp started four weeks ago.
Expected to start the match are midfielders May Mahlangu, Lebogang Mokoena and Andile Jali, along with defender Siboniso Gaxa and striker Tukelo Rantie.
Initially, Komphela and Mosimane called up a big squad for the three back-to-back matches, also with a view to blooding the younger players ahead of the 2013 Afcon, for which South Africa qualify as hosts.
But after the successive draws in the World Cup qualifiers, Komphela is compelled to win against Gabon, as victory could go some way towards enhancing his credentials for the Bafana job.
Gabon coach Paulo Duarte has brought a youthful group of players as part of the country's London Olympics preparations.
Sapa reports that Komphela will be without Santos striker Eleazar Rodgers, who has been withdrawn from the team for club duty.
Rodgers will feature for Santos when they face Chippa United in a National First Division promotion/relegation playoff match on Wednesday in Cape Town.