Wednesday, 15 January 2014

It's not a disaster! But it was an injustice. South Africa 1, Mali 1 - and a draw against Nigeria on Sunday will do nicely

The deadly elbow: Bernard Parker
Imagine, if you will, the scene in downtown Bamako earlier tonight. Dad and sons sitting in front of the television, kicking the dog and shouting in French: “We wuz robbed! Merde!”

Come on, you know it’s true. South Africans must put themselves in Mali’s shoes tonight. Itumeleng Khune’s rash ninth-minute challenge on the impressive Abdoulaye Sissoko WAS a penalty. On SABC1, former Orlando Pirates goalkeeper Deshi Bhaktawer admitted: “He was two weeks late, nowhere near the ball, penalty for me.”

Not 15 minutes later, at the other end, PENALTY GIVEN as Lindokuhle Mbatha, making his full debut, was hauled down JUST OUTSIDE THE BOX.  Souleymane Konate found himself booked and Bernard Parker crashed home the penalty, as he does. Bhaktawer was spot on again: “It was outside the box, and he didn’t make much contact. No penalty.”

And that, my footballing loving friends, was that for the first half. Though out-played and out-muscled, Bafana got to half-time 1-0 up.

Ibrahima Sidibe’s second half equaliser was inevitable, exposing South Africa's defensive frailties. Well taken though. And just.

So how do the Malians feel? And any neutrals? Remember, South Africa has done little to dispel the match-fixing cloud raised by FIFA after those dodgy pre-World Cup friendlies in 2010. Suspensions were handed out, then rescinded. The great Presidential Inquiry appears to have been forgotten. Nobody has been punished.

And Mozambicans may feel Parker’s penalty on Saturday, which put Bafana back in the game at 1-0 down, was unjust too - as was the spot kick in their 4-2 defeat against Nigeria last night.

Essentially, a 1-1 draw against higher-ranked Mali (exactly as I predicted) was a good result for the hosts. They can afford to finish with a draw against Nigeria and no matter what the vastly superior Malians do against pointless Mozambique, the hosts will go through to the quarter-finals. Probably in second place.

With Sissoko hitting the woodwork and Bloemfontein Celtic’s Thabo “Mr Price” Nthethe showing once more how far short of international class he really is next to young Buhle Mkhwanazi, Mali ended the game as it had begun: putting pressure on the home goal.

Itumeleng Khune, eager to move to the European big-time, appeared over-anxious. The highlight of his game, apart from a couple of rash rushes from his goal, came just before half-time when he tried a cheeky shot from all of 60 yards that dropped just over the Mali bar.

The midfield pairing of Hlompho Kekana and Matthew Pattison struggled. Kekana, scorer of a match-changing scorcher in the opening 3-1 triumph over Mozambique on Saturday, had one mighty shot which bent wide but failed in his task to replace the injured Reneilwe Letsholonyane as a box-to-box midfielder. Pattison was forced to become a poor man’s Dean Furman, breaking down attack after attack, unable to move over the halfway line or create anything vaguely constructive.

Up front, Bernard Parker found himself outpaced by the athletic Malians, with little or no support – especially when Gordon Igesund left him on his own up front, removing second striker Edward Manqele, who had been warming up before the 54th minute Mali equaliser. Weird that. It looked like going with one up front was a “park the bus” concept ruined by Sidibe’s well-taken leveller. But Igesund carried on with the substitution anyway.

And then, with Mali pushing for the winner, we had to endure the arrival of Lerato Chabangu as a replacement. Another Igesund favourite. His first task was to completely miss a volley just outside the box. How do the rest of the 23-man squad feel, watching replacements of that calibre?

But for all the critique of Igesund’s methods, a point represents something of a triumph. Only defeat against Nigeria in Cape Town will put South Africa out of the quarter-finals and given the talent on show from Mali last night, that’s not a disaster.

But if I were Cameroon referee Mal Souley Mohamadou, I’d probably avoid holidays in neighbouring Mali for a few lifetimes.

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