DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa was boosted by the return to training of striker Lehlohonolo Majoro on Tuesday ahead of the home team's African Cup of Nations quarterfinal against Mali this weekend.
Coach Gordon Igesund also shrugged off the suspension of defender Anele Ngcongca for Saturday's last-eight game in Durban after his two yellow cards, saying "I think things were meant to happen this way."
Having been under pressure to lift South Africa after opening with a 0-0 draw against Cape Verde, Igesund has sounded more positive since a 2-2 draw with Morocco sent the host nation through to the knockout stages.
"To be honest, we were under huge pressure," Igesund said. "It would have been an absolute tragedy had we not qualified for the last eight. So the pressure is off as far as that issue is concerned."
Majoro had recovered from a cut to his left shin in the group win over Angola which needed stitches and ruled him out against Morocco, the team said. He would train by himself until Thursday, when he would join in the full sessions with his teammates ahead of the quarterfinal.
Igesund wasn't overly concerned with the unavailability of Belgian-based right back Ngcongca. The coach said he was close to picking Siboniso Gaxa on the right of defense against Mali anyway.
"Everything happens for a reason," Igesund said. "Even if Anele was available I think I would have used Gaxa. I think things were meant to happen this way."
Igesund will also now have to settle on his best strikers for Mali after using three different attacking combinations in South Africa's Group A games, partly because of injury to Majoro and partly because of a need to shake things up.
All four Bafana Bafana forwards, Majoro, Tokelo Rantie, Katlego Mphela and Bernard Parker were expected to be fit and available for the quarterfinal against Mali, which reached the semis at the tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea last year and then beat Ghana in the third-place match.
Having led South Africa through a rollercoaster ride in the group stage, Igesund said it would only get tougher now.
"We are two games away from the final. The players understand where we are and we all know there is a huge challenge that lies ahead of us," he said.