Sunday, 29 March 2015

Super Eagles denied at the death but Bafana pay the penalty AGAIN

ON THE SPOT: Andile Jali had his penalty saved in a 1-1 draw against Nigeria
IT IS A little-known fact that penalties are often incredibly important at the top level of football. That clear chance from 12 yards, increasingly blamed on referees rather than loose hands or bad challenges, HAS TO BE CONVERTED.

When you miss on in an international competition. it tends to create concern. Nationwide anxiety. But not, apparently, if you're Shakes Mashaba.

Left to do his own eccentric thing without the Technical Director we were promised by SAFA president Danny Jordaan last year, Mashaba saw Tokelo Rantie miss a vital spot kick in the opening AFCON 2015 game against Algeria. The lad was vilified on the social networds for an effort which cannoned off the top of the bar.

Then, in the two friendlies designed to restore Bafana's shattered dignity after gaining one point in Equatorial Guinea, the situation arose again when Thulani Serero went down in the box. This time Andile Jali was the one who grabbed the ball. And his penalty was comfortably saved by stand-in goalkeeper Dan Akpeyi.

Mashaba said after the game:  "It’s a good thing. Second time it happens. Gives us now cause for concern.”

Bloody hell. NOW you're concerned? When South Africa came within three seconds of defeat against a desperately poor Nigeria?

But look, after any disaster, we cling to the tiny green shoots of recovery to comfort us. Let’s take that attitude while we assess Bafana Bafana’s two international friendlies.

A 3-1 win in Swaziland – ranked 164 in the world – and a last gasp 1-1 draw against a weakened Nigeria should not be sneered at after an AFCON in Equatorial Guinea which saw Shakes Mashaba come back WINLESS with plenty of unnecessary laundry in his six-week suitcase.

The positives are pretty obvious. Itumeleng Khune appears to be back in favour, having started both games, while Thulani Serero played both games and his European pals Ayanda Patosi and Kamohelo Mokotjo both made the trip. Blimey, even the banned May Mahlangu came to have his ankle injury certified, things are definitely looking up!

The penalty against a very beatable Nigeria will be the talking point for a days to come. Having seen Rantie grab the ball against Algeria in the opening AFCON game before ramming it against the top of the bar, we were probably hoping the penalty-taking situation had been sorted out.

But when Jali – whose one-two with Thulani Serero led to the spot kick – grabbed the ball, he lost confidence… offered it to Oupa Manyisa... then walked back to take the penalty. The whole thing smacked of amateurism. It wasn’t a difficult save and the defender actually went closer, ramming the clearance against the upright.

And then, with five minutes left, Moscovite Ahmed Musa produced the magic to score out of the blue. With no apparent danger, he cut in from the left and curled a lovely right foot effort around Khune – the 50th international goal he’s conceded, but after 85 quiet minutes, he could do nothing with a strike of that class.

The disappointment among the 18,500 at Mbombela was palpable. The Super Eagles had swooped again. Even during qualifying for AFCON 2015, both games against Bafana were drawn. This was a win waiting to happen, a jinx waiting to be broken. A 1-0 defeat seemed a trifle harsh, the great leveller from Mamelodi Sundowns' Bongani Zungu in injury time seemed appropriate.

Mashaba said: “Congratulations to the boys. We were unfortunate not to score goals. I don’t want to talk about the penalty again.

"It’s a normal thing, it does happen. We were all over them until the penalty. Then they got the goal. We need players who can lead others."

For me, Mashaba's tactics remain questionable: his decision to drop Mokotjo for the second game was inexplicable and the goalkeeper swap at half-time against Swaziland was almost disastrous.

But my dominant memory of Bafana’s two friendlies will be the harsh words from Mashaba directed at Lehlohonolo Majoro, the Orlando Pirates striker who fell out with agent Tim Sukazi when he left Kaizer Chiefs, after his efforts in Swaziland.

Though we had no television coverage to help us make up our own minds, Mashaba destroyed Majoro as he did when he called Mokotjo “heavy and sluggish” last year. He said Majoro “looked ill, didn’t challenge for the aerial ball, left the other striker on his own” and that he took him off before half-time “because he clearly couldn’t last the game”.

Nasty. Harsh. Small minded. Little wonder Majoro made no impact when he came on as a late sub on Sunday.

But hey, let’s stick to the positives. Zungu deserved the late, late equaliser in Mbombela. Picked ahead of European professionals, he had a strong 90 minutes and was there at the death scoring on the rebound, when it mattered. We’ll leave it at that! 

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