Monday, 26 May 2014

Australia 1-1 South Africa: good result, but no need for a hero's welcome

Scorer: Ayanda Patosi
Gordon Igesund, take a bow. You failed at AFCON, you didn’t qualify for the World Cup, we were a laughing stock at CHAN and lost 5-0 to Brazil. But in Sydney yesterday, Bafana Bafana confounded Brazil-bound Australia.

A 1-1 draw against the Socceroos is not going to spark a hero’s parade at Oliver Tambo International but with New Zealand to come this week, it wasn’t a bad result given the circumstances.

Blitzed by withdrawals and heading towards the end of his contract, South Africa’s head coach gave Australia the worst possible send-off to the World Cup next month. They are drawn in something of a Group of Death with Chile first up, followed by the Netherlands and champions Spain, who haven’t lost a major tournament in three attempts.

If they can’t beat Bafana, with Thabo Nthethe and a grieving Tower Mathoho at the back, they are unlikely to get much out of that trio.

At this point, a special mention for Mulomowandau “Mouth of the Lion” Mathoho. While his multi-capped Kaizer Chiefs team-mates chose to take a holiday rather than representing the nation, our Tower chose to travel to Australia and when his cousin died he stayed to play in Sydney – he will return home today for the funeral.

That takes some guts. And Mathoho showed plenty of that as the Australians dominated the early exchanges. Senzo Meyiwa – watched by habitual No 1 Itumeleng Khune (he confirmed as much to me on twitter) – made six saves in the first 20 minutes and the Orlando Pirates stopper was excellent if unorthodox throughout.

His one mistake came just after Ayanada Patosi’s excellent curling goal for Bafana. Caught by a looping cross, he forgot just how high little Tim Cahill can jump. Bang, 1-1. Everton will confirm Cahill can confound with his head, despite his lack of height.

There was barely time to take a breath between the two goals which marked this final friendly for Australia. But there was plenty of time to take stock of Igesund’s new-look Bafana.

The stupid row with Igesund over Thulani Serero’s injury appears to have been forgotten. The Ajax Ere Divisie winner flew all the way Down Under and shone in midfield, where he will anchor South Africa’s engine room long after Gordon departs.

With Thuso Phala of SuperSport United and Mamelodi Sundowns title-winner Hlompho Kekana quiet, Serero got through a lot of work – and took a look of heavy challenges – but emerged unbowed.

Igesund said: “The journey starts now. This is a competitive bunch of players, they will go places. 

"SAFA’s vision is to be No 3 in Africa and among the top 20 in the FIFA world rankings and these boys will play a major role in the realisation of that dream.

"This tour will mark the beginning of a new era in South African football.

“I am very excited with what I have seen from them in the few days we have been together. They are eager to learn and want to leave a lasting impression.

“I now hope to take this momentum to New Zealand and if they produce the same form, we will enter the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers on a high. I have massive belief in this squad. The players have the right attitude, are talented and they know what they want.

But let’s not fool ourselves. This was a good result for Bafana but not a great performance. Too often the ball was wasted in midfield, possession was lost far too easily – and despite the muscular efforts of Bournemouth’s Tokelo Rantie, there was no sign of a revival up front for South Africa’s blank-shooting strikers.

What we did see was that the great “legends” of Bafana – who spectacularly failed to achieve qualification for the World Cup despite Ethiopia being docked three points during qualifying – are not badly missed.

There is depth in South African football. And we have young talent like Siyanda Xulu at Rostov, Peterborough’s Kagiso Nthle and AmaTuks Buhle Makhwanazi still to come.

So there is light at the end of the Bafana tunnel, whether Igesund departs when his contract expires in August or not. But for Australia? I won’t be betting on them in Brazil!

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