|NOT QUITE ON POINT: Shakes Mashaba and Bafana|
EVERYTHING THAT COULD GO WRONG DID GO WRONG. Emphraim Mashaba, after 10 games unbeaten in the run-up to AFCON 2015, finally lost the invincible tag on Monday night as a series of unfortunate blunders left South Africa with a 3-1 defeat to show for their notable efforts.
When Thuso Phala of SuperSport United put Bafana Bafana ahead just after half-time, the nation was ready to hit the bar. Seconds later Bournemouth’s Tokelo Rantie did just that. He hit the bar from 12 yards after Man of the Match Sbu Vilakazi was brought down in the box.
For a few precious micro-seconds, South Africa stood astride the African continent. At 1-0 up against Algeria’s French-born, French-raised superstars ranked 15th in the world and No 1 by CAF, Shakes knew best.
But from the moment Rantie’s adrenaline-fuelled penalty hit the woodwork our maverick coach, who will go down in history as the only man to insist on an international football press conference in isiZulu, simply froze.
As Algeria shuffled their pack and moved to a 4-4-2, Shakes dithered, perhaps worried about the earlier injury to young centre-back Rivaldo Coetzee.
And boy, did Algeria take advantage. Thulani Hlatshwayo, in for the suspended Tower Mathoho, did the initial damage. Ironic that, given Dean Furman had hit the bar in the first half and South Africa had squandered a series of chances. Yes, the Bafana centre-back known as Tyson scored the desperately-needed Algerian equaliser, flicking his defensive header over Belgian-based goalkeeper Darren Keet, who should have made the call and completed a simple claim.
There was worse to come. Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam blasted a second for Algeria before Islam Slimani poked a shot under the unfortunate Keet, an effort most grandmothers could have blocked. From what should have been 2-0 up to 1-3 down in the space of 25 miserable minutes. Anybody who has ever played the game knows how that feels.
Bafana never really showed signs of a revival after the penalty miss. Mashaba failed to counter the Algerian tactical changes and as captain Dean Furman said afterwards: “When they went to 4-4-2 we didn’t react well. They went two up. We didn’t respond. It’s something we have to look at.”
Shakes insisted (in English), the better side had been beaten. He said: “I know you are all disappointed. This was a match we should not have lost, our first defeat in 11 games. But we have to move forward. We gave the game away, the best team lost after creating so many chances. We allowed them back in to the match and we got punished.”
With Senegal – last-gasp 2-1 winners over Avram Grant’s Ghana - to come on Friday, true Bafana fans know it ain’t over until Benni McCarthy sings. Shakes put it this way: “Lift your heads up today, there are still six pints to play for. It’s a mountain oclimb but I’m confident we’ll do well in our next match.”
A missed penalty, an own goal, a glaring goalkeeping error. Three horrific blows. As Shakes said: “Algeria were lucky to comeback. They had lost focus. They clawed their way back in to it.
“We lost our way at crucial times. We conceded soft goals. Our last two games against Senegal and Ghana are now must-win.”
I had Kaizer Chiefs boss Stuart Baxter on my new Fish And Chips football show after the game on Jacaranda FM. Unbeaten his season and with NO AmaKhosi players in the Bafana starting XI, the man who has taken his club 18 points clear in the PSL said: “Mashaba has to get the players back up after that. He has to tell them to man up, there are still two games to play. Stop feeling sorry for yourselves.
“The difficult thing is, they had it won. They know that. It was in the bag. The job now is to focus on Senegal, a big, physical side, and produce an even better performance. It’s not over.”
Twitter erupted after the game with many expressing a curious mixture of glee and treason as they tore in to Rantie – who appeared to grab the ball in the absence of any designated penalty taker – and Keet, who made a series of fine saves before his embarrassing error for the third goal.
Changes will have to be made for Senegal. Coetzee was limping around the team hotel Bafana share with Ghana in Mongomo this morning. That means suspended Kaizer Chiefs centre-back Tower Mothoho has a natural opportunity to return next to Hlatshwayo.
Personally, I would stick with Keet. Remember, Shakes chose to use three different goalkeepers and three different captains in the build-up to AFCON, so epic stopping and grand leadership were always going to be hard to find.
I’d also look at Oupa Manyisa’s role wide on the left. One of South Africa’s best players – if you discount the Dutch-based Thulani Serero and Kamahelo Mokotjo – deserves to play central, in his natural position.
My team for Senegal on Friday would see old-fashioned Shakes finally forsaking the old 4-4-2, going to a five man midfield with Bernard Parker alone up front if Rantie hasn’t recovered from the penalty miss. Keet? I think Shakes will opt for his U20 favourite Khuzwayo this time.
My XI for Senegal? HERE IT IS: Khuzwayo; Ngcongca, Hlatshwayo, Mathoho, Matlaba; Vilakazi, Jali, Furman, Manyisa, Zungu; Parker.
Both Vilakazi, last year’s PSL player of the season, and Sundowns’ Zungu have been used wide by Gavin Hunt and Pitso Mosimane. We all know what Oupa can do ahead of Jali, they did it so often during those Orlando Pirates treble-winning seasons.
Thusa Phala can be used as an impact sub – he is developing a nose for goals – with Rantie and Bongani Ndulula of AmaZulu read to come on and challenge the Senegal giants if things get tough. Mandla Masango? He simply doesn’t look like an international class player to me.
To stick with 4-4-2 with Manyisa lost on the left, Jali anonymous and a serious lack of width would be to repeat previous mistakes against Senegal. But as we’ve said from the start. Shakes knows best.
And the message via three Bafana players on SMS today: It ain’t over yet.