Thursday, 11 September 2014

Four points out of six. Can't argue with that, Shakes. But in a nation famous for striking...

Strike out: Ndulula against Nigeria last night
SHAKES MASHABA. Four points out of six. That's not a bad return for the resurrected national head coach, after a tricky trip to Sudan followed by a tough home start against African Champions Nigeria.

Last night Sudan lost 2-0 in the Congo before Bafana Bafana produced a performance of pure passion in front of 32,412 to hold Nigeria 0-0 and they currently fill the second qualifying spot in Group A for AFCON in Morocco next year.

Tower Mothoho's off-the-line clearance late in the second half might have been the decisive moment; an early chance for Oupa Manyisa, playing wide on the left, was the best South Africa could show for a sparkling first half.

Though Nigeria had eight shots to Bafana's three and 53-47% possession, Shakes argued: "We created more chances, we had more than seven. We should have scored one."

And in post-match patter reminiscent of Gordon Igersund and Pitso Mosimane's worst, he added: "This was a walk in the park, we should have slaughtered these people. We were all over them, should have scored at least."

It's easy to get carried away - Mashaba's passion and enthusiasm are undeniable - but in truth 0-0 was a fair result. And not a bad one considering that, in 9 previous games between the two nations, South Africa had won just ONCE.

In the space of a week, after successfully getting his beloved Under 20 AmaJitas past Cameroon to their African Youth Championship in Senegal next year, Mashaba appears to have produced a revamped, younger South Africa despite the obstacles thrown carelessly in front of him by the footballing gods.

Ayanda Patosi missed to flights from Europe to South Africa, allegedly ending up in tears somewhere in an airport departure lounge.

Resident goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune - with his captaincy under threat - crocked his ankle in the opening camp sparking all kinds of utterly unfair rumors.

Kermit Erasmus and Leohonolo Majoro, the in-form Orlando Pirates strikers, came in to form just too late for Shakes while FC Twente's Kamohelo Motkotjo (like May Mahlangu, Siyanda Xulu and Thulani Serero, our other top flight Europeans) didn't earn a single second on the park in Khartoum or Cape Town.

To add to the general discomfort, Bafana remain without a proper strip (Nike insist on launching in November, nobody really knows why), without a National Technical Director (a month later than Danny Jordaan promised) and without a recognized international striker (PSL top scorer Bernard Parker has only just returned for Kaizer Chiefs after ankle surgery).

And for all that, if South African can beat Congo in Brazzaville on October 10, they'll be top of Group A against all expectations. Having said that, if Bafana lost that one and Nigeria, as expected, win in Sudan, second place will become a battle to the death with Bafana finishing their campaign in Nigeria on November 15.

There was this too from Shakes in the post-match press conference: "Bongani Ndulula, we would't have pulled him out, he suffered a hamstring. I think one of the chances that we got – now don't say Tokelo Rantie couldn't – Ndulula with the composure and the skill to score goals, he would have done something."

There was no evidence of that. Ndulula shows little of the composure showed by Erasmus or Majoro this season, and the goal-getting headache Pitso and Gordon regularly highlighted remains apparent.

Elsewhere, with the old wood cleared out, man of the match Andile Jali and Dean Furman gave Chelsea's Jon Obi Mikel a torrid night in midfield. Thulani "Tyson" Hlatshwayo showed he can trade punches with the best and captain Senzo Meyiwa survived with his goal intact after his unexpected elevation to leadership 180 minutes ago.

Shakes had taken a deep breath before his parting words: "I wouldn't leave this mic without saying to the people, thanks very much.

"You could see they gave the boys the strength that they needed. We never had the armchair critics, everybody was positive, they were supporting the boys and it gave the boys the energy they needed. We say to them once more, thank you for coming, we appreciate it."

Crucially, at a time when SAFA are pushing something called Vision2022 (Shakes will be 71 by then) Shakes has kept hope alive for 2015. And for that alone, we say to you once more, thank you for coming back Shakes, we appreciate it.

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