Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, Bafana Bafana midfielder DEAN FURMAN talks about South Africa's journey in Egypt, why he believes Stuart Baxter must stay and serving chicken pie to his football idol.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess Bafana's sojourn at AFCON 2019?
Dean Furman: It was a tough tournament as it's the top level of football in Africa. Overall, we are very proud of what we achieved (by reaching the quarter-finals). In the group stage, maybe our performances weren't as good as we know we can be, but we managed to get through to knock-out phase, which was huge for us. It was very important and then to go and take down Egypt the way we did was really the highlight of the tournament for us. It was a fantastic night and has given us hope and confidence going forward that we are a match for any team on this continent. The win over the hosts will hopefully prove a landmark victory for us and one we can use as a springboard to carry on progressing and keep improving as a team. Hopefully, we continue to reach the latter stages of major tournaments in the future... In terms of the win over Egypt, firstly on the pitch was amazing and then many of the 75 000 Egyptian supporters stayed behind to applaud us off the field, which was a wonderful gesture from the home support. Once inside our change room there were scenes of jubilation, with singing and dancing the order of the day. However, in a major tournament you can't go out and have a celebration. We had a quarter-final to prepare for three days later. The same way we got over the disappointment of defeat to Morocco, we had to get over the victory against Egypt very quickly. We couldn't get too high after the Egypt win because we had the challenge of Nigeria to follow. However, beating the hosts was a fantastic moment and something I'll always remember.
Sport24 asked: How did you deal with the heartbreak of losing to Nigeria?
Dean Furman: It was tough to take, but I thought they were tactically clever. They set up quite differently to how they had played against us previously. They kind of let us have the ball because they knew that if they pressed us high, our quick players were going to cause them problems. As such, they sat deeper and let us have the ball. However, there was no space in behind (their defence) which proved so vital for us against Egypt. The Super Eagles' wingers were fantastic on the day and caused us problems, but otherwise it was quite an even match with not too many chances. To exit the event the way we did in the last minute was disappointing. I was ready for extra-time, but it wasn't to be. The pleasing aspect was that we weren't outclassed by the big guns of Nigeria and went toe-to-toe with them. It's something we can derive confidence from and build for the future.
Sport24 asked: Is Bafana's lowly goal-to-game ratio a point of concern?
Dean Furman: Of course we would like to score more goals, but I don't think it's a point of concern. We just need to continue playing our attacking brand of football and, coming out of the tournament, what is really important is to not really change that style for anyone... At times, maybe we were overly-cautious, but tournament football at the highest level is about finding the balance between attack and defence. If you start opening up and wanting to score four of five goals, and you have got your fullbacks on the overlap, you will have problems at the other end because you are playing against top quality teams looking to exploit you at any opportunity. You can't over-commit on attack because if you do the likes of Wilfred Zaha, Mohamed Salah and Hakim Ziyech are going to hurt you. It did take us a little while to get going and certainly in the Egypt game we created chances to score more goals. We also could have scored two or three goals against Namibia, but the disappointment was that we didn't create much against either Ivory Coast or Morocco. We worked on our game plan and everyone could see how we changed to be more of a threat going forward against the Egyptians.
Sport24 asked: What is your assessment of Stuart Baxter as Bafana boss?
Dean Furman: There are no two ways about it; Stuart is a fantastic coach. He is a top manager and I believe he doesn't get any credit in terms of the way he set us up against Egypt. All the credit went to the players, but there were a few tactical tweaks from Stuart which made us so effective. As players, we know the work he puts in and how meticulous he is in terms of his planning. He works in training to help us improve as individuals and a team. At the moment, the team is in a good place and I believe continuity is key at this point in time. If Stuart stays, I think that would be a massive boost for Bafana. He is incredibly thorough and professional and, with him at the helm, the mood in the Bafana camp is always a positive one. He is a joy to work with... What goes on in the media with the coach is not my business really. (Baxter has a testy relationship with the fourth estate and was coy in terms of his future as national coach on his return from Egypt). From inside the camp, I can say that I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Stuart both at SuperSport United and then at senior national level. I hope he continues as Bafana coach and takes the team forward... It's disappointing to see the negativity, but that is modern society and it is part and parcel of being a professional footballer or coach. You can't get too high when you earn praise and can't get too low when the negative stuff comes through. From a personal point of view, criticism on social media or in the press doesn't affect me. I'm 31 and have had a long career. I have been through the highs and lows and I remain pretty level-headed. I don't get too excited or too upset and don't tend to take it all to heart.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your team role and tournament?
Dean Furman: Mine is not the most glamorous role (the workhorse in the midfield screening the defence) but one that I really enjoy. It allows the more attacking players to flourish, knowing that I am there behind them to clean up. I take care of any counter-attacks or when the ball breaks down. It is quite a defined role and something I really enjoy doing. I relished the tournament and the fact that we came up against big players and big teams. I enjoy pushing and testing myself to see what level I'm at. Unfortunately, I missed two games because of injury. It was frustrating and a bit of a disappointment, having trained so hard in the off-season to ensure I was in the best possible shape. Thankfully, I made it back for the round of 16 clash and the quarterfinal... I sustained the injury during the Ivory Coast game and post-match my knee and calf were in a bad way. The injury took a week or so to settle down. It was just one of those things and I could not push it any more than I did.
Sport24 asked: Do you see yourself finishing your career in SA football?
Dean Furman: To be honest, I don't see myself ending my career in South Africa. I have the upcoming season at SuperSport United and then we are really going to assess my options. It would be fantastic to grab another trophy with SuperSport United and that is what the club will be pushing for this season... Unfortunately, in terms of re-joining Chelsea (Furman was a youth team player at the club) that ship has long sailed. However, as a Chelsea fan Frank Lampard is my hero. I am very excited to see him as the coach and what he does with the team. I don't think being a top player necessarily guarantees you becoming a successful manager, but I think Lampard can be successful. I know how hard he worked as a player and watched him training at times and saw him doing extras by himself. It was a huge lesson for me in my career in terms of how to be a top player. I don't think there has ever been a harder working player than him, so I'm pretty sure he will take that into his managerial career. After a good season at Derby, I'm sure he will prove a great success at Chelsea.
Sport24 asked: Who do you rate as the best foreign and local midfielders?
Dean Furman: As a defensive midfielder, I'm a big fan of N'Golo Kante. Now that Lampard is in charge, I hope Kante returns to his favourite position at the Blues. From a South African perspective, I have always rated Hlompho Kekana and think he is a fantastic footballer. He has got everything to his game - his passing range is fantastic, the goals he scores are great and he's tough in the tackle. He is someone who I always enjoy coming up against and I hope that he has another great season.
Sport24 asked: How do you foresee the AFCON final on Friday panning out?
Dean Furman: Algeria and Senegal have been the two best teams at the tournament and they have rightfully reached the final. Riyad Mahrez versus Sadio Mane is going to be a very interesting battle within a battle. Teams from North Africa are very well-organised, well-drilled and hard-working, whereas teams from the West are very powerful, quick going forward and are dangerous at set-pieces. With two different styles coming up against each other, it promises to be an intriguing final at Cairo International Stadium. (Kick-off is at 21:00 on Friday and will be broadcast live on SuperSport 4). Algeria look like a fantastic team. They are well-organised and hard-working, but I think Senegal will win and clinch their first-ever Afcon title. They are powerful and physically strong.
Pierre de Bruyn
Rassie van der Dussen
AB de Villiers
Schalk Burger snr
Chad le Clos
Carlo de Fava
Flip van der Merwe
Neil de Kock
Rohan Janse van Rensburg
Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests, who would they be and why?
Dean Furman: I'm a huge golf fan and would love to invite Tiger Woods. He is an incredible athlete and his comeback was unbelievable. Lampard would also be welcomed. He is my hero and who doesn't want to have dinner with their hero? I would love to pick his brain on his playing career, having watched him at close quarters. I'm also a massive tennis fan and used to play a lot of the sport growing up. I used to look up to American Pete Sampras, who was my tennis idol. As far as food is concerned, my wife Tash is a great cook and she makes a brilliant chicken pie, so it would definitely be on the menu. In terms of music, I'm a very big fan of Mumford & Sons and they would be playing in the background. I actually saw them perform in South Africa and they were incredible.