Sunday, 12 October 2014

The magical madness of King Shakes Mashaba: see it for youself in Polokwane on Wednesday

Fairy-tale characters: scorers Rantie and Ndulula
THIS morning we wake up to a brave new world in football-speaking South Africa. Congo have renamed their second city Three-Pointe-Noire, Bafana Bafana are top of their AFCON qualifying group and Ephraim "Shakes" Mashaba is being widely suggested as a future president.

Yesterday's 2-0 win has firmly re-established the reputation of our game, just as Orlando Pirates surge to the African Champions League final last year helped restore the pride in our diski.

But when it comes to analysis, how do we explain Mashaba's record of three games, two wins, one draw. How can we possibly unpack a situation which sees AFCON champions Nigeria bottom of the group with one point and much-maligned Bafana top with SEVEN... and NO GOALS CONCEDED.

Attempting to write my Neal and Pray column for today I found myself constantly coming up against logic as I attempted to reveal Mashaba's genius.

Our 64-year-old coach, who has only ever worked within the borders of South Africa (you have to included Swaziland at this point) came up against a 66-year-old called Claude LeRoy (who has enjoyed NINE international hot-seats) and utterly confounded the Frenchman, who had gone to Nigeria and WON in Congo's opening qualifier.

It all makes no sense. As SAFA President Danny Jordaan said at the end of July when Shakes was selected to replace Gordon Igesund: "Shakes was the cheapest option, yes, but cost was never taken in to account."

With Carlos Queiroz and Frank Rijkaard asking for figures upwards of R12m a year to run Bafana, Shakes took the job while he was embroiled in getting our Under 20 AmaJitas to their own African
Fine finish: Rantie's goal at Pointe-Noire
See vine HERE:
Youth Championship next year. It was a ridiculous scenario. He was off travelling up north while simultaneously trying to prepare the nation for a qualifying group featuring Steve Keshi's rampant Nigeria, dangerous Sudan and Rwanda... who were ultimately replaced by Congo after fielding an ineligible player.

Yet from this chaos, our AmaJitas beat Cameroon to qualify for their African Youth Championship and, as history now shows, he has guided the seniors to an almost impregnable position atop Group A despite that distraction.

It's utterly inexplicable. No international coach starts his task with another job to complete. No international coach goes in to continental qualifying not knowing much about how his guys are doin overseas. No international coach can be expected to succeed when he's been involved with kids and Swazis over the past decade after an embarrassing departure from the hot-seat ten years ago.

But Shakes has done all that. And more. He just doesn't care for logic. Look at Saturday's incredible selection decisions, a long list of brave but apparently crazy options.

Giving 17-year-old Rivaldo Coetzee his record-breaking debut in a place like Pointe-Noire was madness. Especially when you consider Coetzee is hardly a first-team regular at Ajax Cape Town. And then throw in the fact that he chose to break-up the all-conquering centre-back pairing of Tefu Mashamaite and Tower Mothoho, who have helped Kaizer Chiefs to a 12-match winning streak to start the season.

On your bike: Ndulula's acrobatic opener
See vine HERE:
In midfield, he discarded Ayanda Patosi and Kamahelo Makotjo but opted to fly Thulani Serero over from Ajax Amsterdam. Worse, he told Makotjo he "looked heavy" after making the FC Twente midfielder travel to Sudan and Cape Town last time out without a minute on the park.

Up front, Shakes appeared to have yielded to popular pressure, calling Orlando Pirates top scorer Kermit Erasmus in to the squad. And then what does he do? He leaves Kermit on the bench. He picks Bongani Ndulula, a striker who has done little to lift Amazulu off the foot off the PSL. And, worse, he adds goal-free Tokelo Rantie who can't make the starting line-up at English second-tier hopefuls Bournemouth.

But of course, it's in goal where Shakes has made his bravest decision. Orlando Pirates goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa had travelled to these parts before. Nobody will forget his two penalty saves against TP Mazembe nearly two years ago, though few were allowed to see it as the television coverage was blacked out in Lumbubashe in neighbouring DRC.

To pick Meyiwa, weak on crosses and big on lurid front page headlines, was utter madness. To make him captain for the injured Kaizer Chiefs hero Itumeleng Khune was UNBELIEVABLE.

But as I have said on twitter from the start. SHAKES KNOWS BEST. Meyiwa proved unbeatable, I counted SIX good saves, one a brilliant bit of game reading when the Congolese took a tricky quick free kick.

In midfield, Dean Furman, plying his trade with lowly Doncaster in England, was magnificent next to Serero, Mandla Masango and Belgium based Andile Jali. And then came those two quick goals after half-time from Ndulula and Rantie.

Fairy-tale stuff. I can't explain it. Here's Shakes' attempt, quotes direct from SAFA after the game:

“I am happy to have beaten Congo for the second time. The first time I was a stand-in coach. We defeated them one nil, today it was two and I hope the next time it will be three. But it shows there is some improvement from the coaches, we are getting somewhere.

“It also shows we are on track with our vision. Sudan and Congo are no pushovers, and we lacked a bit of luck to defeat Nigeria. But things are working well. If you look at the personnel we brought in, they looked good.

"Youngster Rivaldo (Coetzee) was outstanding, Letsholonyane gave us what we wanted. Going forward we will bring in one or two more players because we are building a new side and I hope it will bring more results. Should we qualify for Morocco then we will test the strength of the squad at the tournament, and once we are done there we look forward to preparing for 2018 World Cup.

“It’s a combination of things because when you play good football without scoring it doesn’t help, but you can also play bad and get three points. But here we have combined the two because the boys are playing good football, it’s been quite a while since I last saw our team playing such good football. They are beaming with confidence as individuals, but the combination of the players means we are gradually achieving our goals."

He says it well, does Shakes. But it still doesn't explain his uncanny ability to take a bunch of footballers and make them play like their shorts are on fire.

On Wednesday evening at the new Peter Mokabe Stadium in Polokwane, South Africa gets the chance to see this Mashaba magical madness for themselves when the Congo fly in for the return game. Victory will just about ensure qualification with Sudan at home to come.

I suggest, very strongly, you get there if you can.

Vines thanks to Soccer Laduma's Joe Crann @yeswecrann

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