Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Bafana Bafana verdict: disappointing but not disastrous. AFCON 2015 is not over. Yet. KEEP HOPE ALIVE!

Ace in the pack: Oupa Manyisa after scoring in the 1-1 draw against Senegal
LET’S GET THIS STRAIGHT. The 1-1 draw against Senegal on Friday night was NOT a disaster for South African football. It was just another disappointment for the football-speaking nation to swallow.

It could yet prove to be a mere blip on the road to the AFCON final, though the Senegal equaliser felt more like a barricade to progress in a tournament which is there for the taking.

Having been told by then-unbeaten coach Ephraim Mashaba that the Group of Death was not a problem, things haven’t quite gone according to plan. Shakes targeted a five-point haul but already that is beyond us and when he insisted on packing “for six weeks” we were fooled in to thinking qualifying from Group C was a mere formality.

It’s not. It never was. Let’s get those qualifying permutations out of the way to start with, to avoid a repeat of the dancing at Mbombela four years ago:

South Africa need to beat Ghana, or they go OUT. That much is set in stone. SAFA, on their official facebook page, claim “a big win in the final game” on Tuesday could still see Shakes top the group. That, I’m afraid, is simple misinformation which went uncorrected for hours after I pointed it out.

In truth, the best we can do is second – if Senegal beat Algeria. If they draw, South Africa are out on head-to-head with the Desert Foxes as both will have four points. If Algeria win their final game – also played at 8pm on Tuesday – it goes down to goal difference with Senegal, who will also have 4 points. I suspect 2-0 might do it.

It’s never a good thing to go in to the final group matches in a tournament with the other two teams just needing to draw but Shakes remains upbeat: “We still have a chance, we are not out of the tournament yet,” he said “If we’d taken our chances we could have scored six in both games. We have played well in this tournament, we can still surprise you with our last game.”

Captain Dean Furman, faultless on the night, said much the same: “We go in to every match believing until the final whistle. That’s the way we’ve played this tournament.

"We take a lot of confidence from the two games, results didn't go our way but other teams struggled to live with us."

That’s true. At times Bafana have looked capable of competing with the best on the continent. Friday night was very similar to the opening 3-1 collapse against Algeria in Mongomo. Just as Rivaldo Coetzee went off injured after 23 minutes against the Desert Foxes, so Thulani Hlatshwayo went off complaining of double vision against Senegal after 25 minutes.

Then came the South African goal and huge hope just after half-time. A lovely finish from Oupa Manyisa just inside the far post made it 1-0 after 46 minutes – Ace’s first goal in 23 games for Bafana had the nation believing.

But once more – influenced perhaps by the loss of another centre-back - Mashaba failed to make changes as the Lions of Teranga came roaring back. Goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane came for a deep cross… then changed his mind. Tower Mathoho, otherwise faultless, could only look on as the huge Kara Mbodji, Anele Ngcongca’s Belgian club-mate, headed home. If Mabokgwane had stayed on his line, it would have been a comfortable save.

At 1-1, South Africa should have thrown everything forward, looking for the win. Risky? Sure. Mabokgwane made a lovely save in the dying minutes to emphasise the nature of that gamble. Mashaba, making text-book changes just after the hour-mark, turned to Bernard Parker for that final push.

And that was the alarming part. Bafana looked happy with a point for those final, edgy minutes. Tokelo Rantie never changed pace. Furman and the struggling Jali stayed fairly deep. The urgency, the desperation to win it, just didn’t happen, which is unusual for a Mashaba outfit. Senegal looked happy to settle for the draw, understandably.

Shakes, as the legend Linda Buthelezi said last week, is an old-fashioned coach. Africa’s Sir Alex Ferguson perhaps, with his goalkeeper shuffling and refusal to bow to public opinion, that classic refusal to slap down big name players like Thulani Serero – our only Champions League star – and Kamahelo Mokotjo, who picked up yet another assist for FC Twente in the Ere Divisie last night.

WORTH A LOOK: Moses Nku, offers THIS Bafana "forgotten eleven": Khune (capt), Mphahlele, Jele, Mashamaite, Masilela, Mokotjo, Mahlangu, Claasen, Patosi, Erasmus, Serero. I'd add Orlando Pirates' Lehlohonolo Majoro, Rostov's Siyanda Xulu and Buhle Makhwanazi of Wits to that list.

Shakes, who clearly hadn’t been briefed on what has to be done on Tuesday night to qualify, issued the normal platitudes: "Well done to the boys. We have created more chances than our opposition in both games. In the first game we lost in the dying minutes. Today we scored and couldn't consolidate - we gave it away.

"I think our biggest problems are regaining possession when we've lost the ball - we find ourselves wanting - and not scoring with the chances we've created. We should be top and the top scorers. We'll work on that. I'm happy and proud of the team."

Sadly, the nation will struggle to be proud of a team with one point at the six-foot-under end of the Group of Death. What Shakes needs is what Danny Jordaan promised me six months ago. A modern, well-qualified Technical Director. Somebody to push possession football, assess goalkeeping methods and smooth over rifts with big-name foreign players, Mashaba’s glaring weakness when he was fired from the same job a decade ago.

The SAFA president also claimed Mashaba would spend time with FIFA’s top man Gerard Houllier, the former Liverpool boss who is now the world’s top technical advisor. There is no evidence of that as he rushes about assisted by inexperienced Thabo Senong, 34, and yes-man Owen Da Gama. There are times when the Bafana bench doesn’t appear to be watching the game, they’re so busy rubbing heads and gesticulating.

But these are the normal problems. Nothing new. Much the same could be said of previous South African coaches, who progressed beyond the AFCON group stages in 2013 but failed to get past Ethiopia and in to the World Cup play offs.

Shakes, beaten just once in 12 games, will point to an impressive record in his latest spell in charge of Bafana. His quest to fulfil SAFA’s “Vision 2022” has been put on the back-burner with older players dragged in to the squad for Equatorial Guinea. But he has certainly revived Bafana’s fortunes and his passion cannot be questioned. His team talks, as I’ve said before, are terrifying and generally useful.

If the magic happens and Bafana make it to the quarter-final, anything could happen. Shakes, beset by Itumeleng Khune’s injury on the first day of his reign and Senzo Meyiwa’s tragic murder, could thrive in the knock-out stages. The man has always had the ability to confound the critics.

And for all that has been said and done about selection, four goalkeeping changes in four games and a lack of tactical acumen, we can - must - still hope for a brighter future for Bafana. Starting on Tuesday night at 8pm in Mongomo.

And as for the “sack Shakes” campaign? Forget it. He’s the cheap but sensible option. As I’ve said all along. Now where’s that Technical Director, Danny?


  1. This statement is incorrect, "If they draw, South Africa are out on head-to-head with the Desert Foxes as both will have four points." Head to head only applies in the qualifying groups. A win by 3 clear goals will be enough to see SA through.

    I suggest you read,

  2. @Keith, sorry mate, you are actually wrong. Remember that wikipedia is written by people like Neal, you and me...there are so often mistakes in wiki...

    The criteria is: head ot head first, then the overall goal difference.

    I suggest you read (which is from the horses mouth, so to say - article 74):