Bafana Bafana Chronicles- Day 2 in Khartoum
Written by Mbali Mokoko
5 September: It had not reached 6am yet and we woke up to 26 degrees heat. On the itinerary for the day is Bafana Bafana’s first official training session in the Sudanese capital before Friday night’s match. Training was scheduled immediately after breakfast, which was a hearty spread at the al Salam Rotana hotel. The hotel was a substitute after our entire travelling party was forced to leave the Corinthian Hotel on Wednesday night because the air conditioners didn’t work.
As we enjoyed our breakfast at Al Salam Rotana hotel, it soon became clear that no training would be possible because the mercury just kept on climbing. Just before 10am, it was already 39 degrees of sweltering heat. Instead, we (the team, journalists and members of the technical team) went on a walkabout to see what Khartoum had in store. One thing that fascinated me is that when we went to the bank to change our money, people walked in carrying large amounts of cash in paper bags, plastic bags and briefcases.
After our walkabout, it was confirmed that Bafana would have their first Sudanese training session in a cooler 30 degree heat of the Sudanese night. Our 20 minute journey to the el Marachi stadium for the 8pm training session was interesting. I was aware of how dark the city was compared to Johannesburg, but the highlight was driving over the mythical Nile River. On arrival at el Marachi, the same stadium that would host the 2015 AFCON qualifier on Friday night, we were all surprised at how small the stadium was. The stadium felt less like a venue that would host a big AFCON qualifier and more like Soweto’s Dobsinville Stadium. The key difference being that the pitch at the Dobsonville Stadium is in much better condition. We are so fortunate in South Africa to have such world class facilities. The el Marachi stadium’s pitch was bumpy, with uneven grass cover and looked more like a disused township cricket field- definitely not the place for carpet football.
Bafana coach Ephrahim Shakes Mashaba immediately calmed the player’s fears, saying that the bumpy pitch is a challenge for both teams, so Bafana have no excuses. I immediately spotted the spring in goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa’s step. I learned a short while later that when it was revealed that the Orlando Pirates goalie had been entrusted with captaincy for Friday’s match, Mashaba says he chose Senzo because after speaking to him he realized that the experience he gained in playing last season’s CAF Champions League with the Bucaneers was invaluable. Meyiwa faced these sorts of conditions and would be able to lead the players accordingly, Mashaba argued. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I can’t wait for Friday night.