Sunday, 11 October 2015

Signs of improvement for Bafana: but Shaky needs to be less friendly

THE LOCAL VIEW: Mashaba arrives in Honduras
Picture: @bafanabafana
SUDDENLY, South Africa's football team is a "well-oiled machine" according to Bafana Bafana boss Shakes Mashaba. A nation "which should be among the top sides in Africa" according to Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

My take? ALWAYS APPLAUD SIGNS OF IMPROVEMENT. That was my reaction to those who wrote off Bafana Bafana’s win in Costa Rica in the wee hours of Friday morning as “just another friendly”.

And that will be my reaction if national coach Ephraim Mashaba manages to rouse South Africa to a similar triumph in central America against Honduras as Tuesday becomes Wednesday at San Pedro Sula.

Yes, coach Shakes does love a friendly to hide his shortcomings in competitive games. But then we all know that. We also know he likes to pick players based on agent’s recommendations rather than the evidence of his own eyes.

We also know he got his own son to ask questions at his last major press conference in this country as we recovered from the shock of that 1-3 AFCON 2017 qualifying defeat in Mauritania. 

We know he makes dodgy substitutions when the pressure is on, I’m told his team talks are a joke and the man himself freely accepts he’s no tactical genius, “more of a motivator” in his words.

But the win against Costa Rica, a tiny nation of less than five million people, WAS significant. Though they had barely won a game since their epic progress to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Brazil last year, this was on their patch, in front of 25,000 enthusiastic fans.

Remember, Bafana didn’t have a real striker in their squad. It took them two visits to the airport to actually get the impromptu two-nation CONCACAF tour underway because their US transit visas were not in order.

And then there was that abortive attempt to fly three weary Orlando Pirates - Mpho Makola,  Thamsanqa Gabuza and Thabo Matlaba - to Costa Rica via Brazil as late reinforcements.

To be frank the whole trip looked like a waste of time and effort (though not funds, apparently the CONCACAF nations are paying for the whole thing) until Andile Jali’s first half goal gave us hope of an away win against a nation ranked 42nd in the world despite their recent slump in form (they reached a high of 13th after the World Cup).

And so to Honduras. As far as I know, no reinforcements have been shipped out. Tyson Hlatshwayo has flown home after the death of his uncle. Apparently Shaky is happy to continue his crusade without a striker after the withdrawal of non-playing Bournemouth “star” Tokelo Rantie with a muscle strain (that’s another story).

We will play Honduras, a nation of just 8m, ranked 89 in the world (South Africa are currently 73) with George Lebese, Thulani Serero and Sibusiso Vilakazi pushing forward from midfield, perhaps even Kamohelo Mokotjo will join in the fun.

Another win is quite possible. Honduras reached the last World Cup but while Costa Rica won their group unbeaten and sent England and Italy home, Honduras ended bottom of their group with no points and a goal difference of -7.

If Bafana do win, expect Shaky to tell us once more how we can compete with “world-class opposition” and how we can “beat anybody on our day” and who can argue?

But then the Bafana boss must return to competitive football. On Saturday at the Rand Stadium, his home-based CHAN squad - a team of likely PSL substitutes rather than brave youngsters - begin their two-legged epic against Angola.

Then we have the two REAL games against the same nation in World Cup qualification. And, in the coming months. the prospect of home and away clashes with Cameroon where two wins are imperative to revive minuscule AFCON 2017 qualification hopes.

Those are the vital games. Friendly results against Costa Rica and Honduras will count for nothing if Shaky goes out of the World Cup and AFCON.

But if he returns from the Americas with two neat away wins in front of hostile crowds, we have to accept THERE ARE SIGNS OF IMPROVEMENT.

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