Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Shakes Mashaba verdict: One game, one mighty away win. Now for Nigeria (hopefully)


Lifting the nation: Bafana Bafana head coach Shakes Mashaba
Shakes Mashaba re-started his career as South Africa’s national coach with a bang on Friday night and faces Nigeria (unless FIFA intervene) on Wednesday in Cape Town with renewed optimism surging around the country.

Chief among the praise singers? Our Sports Ministers Fikile Mbalula. I caught up with him at the ANN7 South African of the Year awards at the Sandton Convention centre on Saturday night just to check those laughing, dancing tweets he sends out are REALLY his: “No assistants, all my own work,” was his response to messages of wild congratulation to Mashaba in Sudan.

And that’s as it should be. Shakes went in to his first game pre-occupied by the fate of his AmaJitas, having engineered a path to the African Youth Championship in Senegal next year against Cameroon less than a week before taking over the big boys of Bafana.

For that reason, the questions before the game were many and varied. Players with strong European CVs like May Mahlangu, Thulani Serero and Siyanda Xulu were ignored in the coach’s new selection while Tokelo Rantie and Dean Furman, in-and-out players in the lower reaches of English football, were drafted straight in to the starting line-up.

In-form PSL players like Tsepo Masilela, Kermit Erasmus and Lehlohonolo Majoro were left out while David Xulu and Bongani Ndulula were in. By the time Keagan Dolly and Mashaba admitted they knew next-to-nothing about Sudan or its football team, the debate was raging.

And when Kamahelo Mokotjo, playing well for FC Twente in the Dutch Ere Divisie, couldn’t even find a place on the bench, things moved up a notch.

But that’s how it should be. No national coach is immune to critique, even on debut. There's a nasty, desperate BBK column in the Sunday Times today suggesting racism is behind the questioning of some of Mashaba's decisions. Given the battle against his predecessor Gordon Igesund, that's just low-life journalism.

Yes, the build-up was lively, as you’d expect… but when Bafana hit back after a difficult first half with supersub Sbu Vilakazi scoring a brace before Ndulula added the third, general celebration ensued. Mashaba's brave decisions had become great ones. All was right in the diski world.

I said all week Sudan, ranked 115 in by FIFA, would be no match for South Africa, ranked 69. Mark Fish and I agreed a away point would be fine, but a win even better… and that’s how it turned out.

Bringing on player of the season Vilakazi of Wits for Bournemouth's Rantie proved a work of genius, Furman and Jali took control of the middle of the park and Senzo Meyiwa, who took the shirt and the armband from the injured Itumeleng Khune, was near-perfect. Oupa Manyisa, who should have started, added impetus when he came on. Shakes passed with flying colours on all his major questions.

With Nigeria in all sorts of trouble – they could be suspended from FIFA by the time you read this and “interim coach” Steve Keshi’s African Champions lost to Congo in their opening game on Saturday – but the fact remains they Super Eagles have only lost ONE and draw ONE in nine attempts against South Africa.

But Shakes is well aware of that. Blessed with an extraordinary ability to meld even an average bunch of players into a “patriotic unit”, here is his interview with SAFA after the match:  “Once we weathered the storm in the opening minutes in which they pumped long balls upfront, I knew we would achieve our goal of coming away with three points. And the boys stuck to the script.

“In the second half, we completely dominated the game and with clinical finishing, the scoreline could have been 6, 7 or 8. But the 3-0 win is quite encouraging and we need to maintain the momentum.

“I think the entire team played well and it will be unfair to single out individuals. It was a great team effort and I think all players deserve praise.

 “We are meeting our nemesis but my gut feel is that all that all the losing to Nigeria is about to change. Wednesday should be a defining moment.”

Can’t say it any better than that, Shakes!

SOCCERBALLZ! my innovative football show on with Mark Fish airs every Thursday from 9am-11am. See Ballz' Youtube channel for our growing library of fascinating football interviews with the big names.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday in

No comments:

Post a Comment