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! 

Saturday, 21 March 2015

THE MOST BIZARRE FOOTBALLING NATION IN THE WORLD: Diski in Mzanzi remains inexplicable. But gives us plenty to talk about

REF, YOU NEED GLASSES! Stuart Baxter was red-carded after making
this gesture to our "No 1" referee Daniel Bennett on Saturday night
WE have seen enough, in less than one season, to know that South African football is unique. In a land where soccer dominates, there are more questions than answers and we rely on cricket and rugby for international success.

Bafana Bafana, with their ever-changing goalkeepers, unsolved match-fixing scandals and unbanned foreign stars, offers a bizarre insight in to our game. I’ve researched how often an international squad has chosen TWO goalkeepers from ONE club, It has NEVER happened.

Itumeleng Khune and Brilliant Khuzwayo BOTH playing for Kaizer Chiefs is just indicative of the confusion we face as South African football fans. And it's not new. Have a look at the Brian Baloyi and Andre Arendse debate a decade ago (Shakes Mashaba was the coach then too, with goalkeeping and captaincy confusion, see

There's also THIS involving Mashaba's multiple previous spells in charge of Bafana. We knew, we were warned, he had previous, all the old pros warned me. But we gave him the job again.

This kind of thing happens NOWHERE ELSE in the world. Neither does the tumult over Tokelo Rantie, Ayanda Patosi, May Mahlangu – called up despite injury in Turkey – and Kamohelo Mokotjo, dismissed last year as “heavy and sluggish” by Mashaba. Our four best overseas players dismissed for AFCON but curiously recalled for the upcoming international friendlies on the insistence of SAFA president Danny Jordaan.

Rarely in my 35 years of sports writing have I heard anybody quite as politically astute (or as rude when the right questions are being asked) as Mashaba, a man who is capable of avoiding difficult questions while simultaneously having his two mobile phones and his lap-top stolen by a car jammer. Like our president, he laughs when he should cry, dances when he should act, takes when he should be giving.

Surrounded by agents despite the furore over his predecessor Gordon Igesund, Shakes continues to be seen as a messiah despite the second-worst AFCON performance in Bafana’s history being the most recent evidence of his lack of tactical and diplomatic acumen.

But it’s not just Mashaba. It’s not just SAFA, with their empty promises of a Technical Director and a gun-metal statue of the late Senzo Meyiwa. There are sinister forces all over the place. Evidence that Diski in Mzanzi is simply INEXPLICABLY INEFFICIENT.

We have the outrageous, late blooming talent of Thabo Rakhale and the obvious joy of Hendrick Ekstein being messed about by our two biggest clubs as PSL attendance dip to unprecedented levels – we’re set to go under 6,000 per game, lower even than the all-white NFL in the bad old days of Apartheid in the 1970s.

AND NOTHING IS DONE. Nobody even talks about it. Our top football presenters, who have never played the game, steer the struggling ex-professionals away from anything controversial on radio and television. We shall bury our heads in the sand. We will not ask why "football managers" deal with agents on transfers rather than coaches. Or why the big clubs take all the sponsorship money. Or why our grass roots football, with the FIFA Legacy Fund earning interest in a dusty vault, remains neglected.

And why are Q-innovation tables so hard to come by? Why did our Asidlali reserve league fail to encourage Under 19s?

But we're talked about these things before. Tonight, a live eccentricity raised its head: we have our much-hyped number one referee Daniel Bennett missing a clear off-side and ignoring a blatant penalty as Kaizer Chiefs were ousted from the Nedbank Cup on Saturday night by Zeca Marques' NFD outfit Black Leopards.

Just to rub salt in the wounds, Bennett sent off a bemused coach Stuart Baxter after he made the gesture (pictured above) that suggests he needs spectacles. Great stuff!

To get to the nub of the South African problem THIS: Baxter is EIGHT POINTS clear at the top of the PSL. But he STILL hasn’t found a striker. Though Bernard Parker finally scored his fourth goal of the season in midweek against Moroka Swallows, it remains the case that Baxter’s midfielders and centre-backs (from set pieces) have scored 80 percent of his League goals.

With David Zulu and Matty Rusike failing again on Saturday, Baxter, with five non-scoring strikers, will now turn to James Keene, a 29-year-old British journeyman. After spending last week on trial at Naturena, Baxter says: “James is available and he suits our style. He’ll have to go home to apply for a work permit. It might be just for the rest of the season, but we’d like him long-term.”

Baxter says Keene has "a proven record" but he failed to score in the inaugural Indian Super League earlier this season and was deeply unimpressive. But like "experienced" New Zealander Jeremy Brockie at SuperSport United, perhaps Keene can show us how to score from two yards out, how to make incisive runs, shield the ball, show a decent first touch.

Or so the Kaizer Chiefs fans hope as we wait for April 4 and the resumption of the PSL after these two Bafana friendlies against Swaziland and Nigeria. I won’t link games like this to the unsolved match-fixing scandal before the 2010 World Cup. My head might explode.

But just to prove how strange our game is: consider our THIRTEEN coaching casualties this season. I spoke to Allan Freese, put on special leave by Platinum Stars on Friday night before the Nedbank Cup clash with Mamelodi Sundowns tomorrow. Then I spoke to Cavin Johnson, thrown out by SuperSport early in the season. And a couple of others.

As a specific interest group, they are as confused by our game as I am. 13 coaching casualties in a 16-team league? Unbelievable. Utterly confounded by the timing of Clive Barker’s departure from Mpumalanga Black Aces or Fani Madida’s short tenure at Moroka Swallows. And as for Ernst Middendorp’s winless efforts at Chippa United...

But this is South African football. Where even top of the table Baxter and super caretaker Eric Tinkler are insecure, despite all they have achieved. Stay tuned. It might be bizarre, but it sure gives me something to talk about.  Like tonight's Nedbank Cup winner for Jeremy Brockie as SuperSport United ousted Orlando Pirates in the Nedbank Cup tonight...

Monday, 16 March 2015

THAT KAIZER CHIEFS SLUMP: Baxter senses danger as Swallows sack Madida, the TWELFTH coach gone this season

RARE SIGHT: Mandla Masango celebrates Kaizer Chiefs only PSL goal
in 2015 during the 1-0 win against Ajax Cape Town on March 4
EXACTLY a month ago, I wrote here about the Kaizer Chiefs annual slump, pointing out the danger of the mighty AmaKhosi letting things slip again after the Christmas break.

Since I wrote this things have gone from bad to worse at Naturena, with points and goals drying up faster than a duck pond in the Sahara.

Two seasons ago, when Baxter became the first foreign coach to win the title in his first season, Chiefs hung on to win the title by a point from Platinum Stars. Last season, Mamelodi Sundowns swept past them to snatch the Absa trophy.

But this year, the slump is more of a collapse; though low-scoring “marksman” Kingston Nkhatha decamped controversially to SuperSport United (and scored a few early goals) little has changed in the camp, apart from the arrival of R4m striker David Zulu, who was carrying a knee injury before he left Chippa United.

When I wrote my last piece, Chiefs – unbeaten at Christmas and 18 points clear – contrived a 0-0 draw with Bloemfontein Celtic and a 2-0 defeat against Nkhatha’s SuperSport United as they resumed after the break.

Since then, they’ve beaten Ajax Cape Town 1-0; drew 0-0 with Orlando Pirates in a disappointing Soweto Derby and, just last week, suffered a shock 1-0 defeat against Steve Komphela’s Maritzburg United. Komphela said afterwards: “The team that doesn’t know how to lose was beaten by a team which had forgotten how to win. We had exhausted every way to lose, so we had no option but to win.”

Saturday’s 1-0 defeat against Morocco’s African Club Cup semi-finalists Raja Casablanca was almost a relief. The early goal – from a Chiefs-style set-piece – was all the visitors could muster at the Moses Mabhida and, as Baxter said: “I wasn’t too disappointed with our performance after that.”

There were, of course, the 2-0 and 1-0 wins over Botswana’s Township Rollers in the African Champions League and a 4-0 win over Edu Sports in the Nedbank Cup, but if you discount those three, Kaizer Chiefs record in the PSL since Christmas reads:

Played FIVE, won ONE, drew TWO, lost TWO. That run has seen Mamelodi Sundowns close the gap to eight points, potentially five if Masandawana win their game in hand.

But how about goals scored? ONE. Yes, just that 15th minute Mandla Masango rebound after George Lebese’s shot at Soccer City against Ajax. One goal in 450 minutes of League football from the runaway leaders. Shocking.

Tomorrow night at Dobsonville, Baxter’s strike force must muster SOMETHING against low-flying Moroka Swallows - who sacked their coach tonight - or the massive mid-season lead will have been frittered away in record time.

Following Fani Madida’s departure from Moroka Swallows tonight, here’s the full list of TWELVE PSL coaches who have moved posts this season:

Cavin Johnson (SuperSport United)
Kosta Papic (Chippa United)
Boebie Solomons (Polokwane City)
Craig Rosslee (Amazulu)
Zeca Marques (Moroka Swallows)
Tom Saintfiet (Free State Stars)
Steve Barker (Tuks)
Vladimir Vermezovic (Orlando Pirates)
Ernst Middendorp (Bloemfontein Celtic)
Roger Sikhakhane (Chippa United)
Clive Barker (Mpumalanga Black Aces)
Fani Madida (Moroka Swallows)

That means only SIX clubs out of SIXTEEN have survived the season so far: Stuart Baxter (Kaizer Chiefs, longest serving in the country at nearly THREE seasons), Pitso Mosimane (champions Mamelodi Sundowns), Gavin Hunt (Bidvest Wits), Roger de Sa (Ajax Cape Town), Steve Komphela (Maritzburg United) and under-pressure Allen Freese (Platinum Stars).

And as for the return against Raja Casablanca, what chance do the mighty AmaKhosi have? One of the best known brands on the continent face an early exit once more, along with Sundowns, who could only manage a 1-0 home win against TP Mazembe despite a first half red card for the visitors.

We all know how difficult Lumbumbashi can be for visitors – just ask Roger De Sa about the dubious penalties and red cards – and to be honest, will a 2-1 advantage be enough to stop the Taxmen finally getting their revenge on Doctor Irvin Khoza’s Orlando Pirates at plucky Uganda Revenue Service?

All of which will leave South Africa – like the English, who will probably see Arsenal and Manchester City fail this week – OUT of all continental competition. And with only domestic trophies to focus on.

Perhaps that will focus the mind for Katlego Mphela and Bernard Parker… or David Zulu and Hendrick Ekstein… or Mandla Masango and Matty Rusike.

Baxter insists: “We played better against Raja than in some games we’ve won. But  if you don’t score, you don’t win. It’s a worry. We’re working hard on it.”

Part of that process is getting James Keene, a 29-year-old from Portsmouth, England, over for a trial. A journeyman striker who scored 25 Bundesliga goals for Elfsborg at his peak, is a free agent after failing to score for NorthEast United FC in the inaugural Indian Super League season. He is expected to train with the AmaKhosi this week.

But Keene won't play against Swallows. If it's hard work you're looking for, I’d go for Ekstein and Rusike. Or perhaps, as I said last night on twitter, try the Manchester United 4-1-4-1 with Willard Katsande in front of the back four. String MaLeMa (Masango, Lebese, Maluleka) across the midfield with Ekstein and stick Zulu up front on his own (if fit).

It’s the one combination untried so far. Can’t be any worse than the last two months, Stuart.

James Keene video below:

Monday, 9 March 2015

GOALLESS BORE: The TRUTH about the Soweto Derby: time to tell it like it is, South Africa

No goals: Baxter and Pirates caretaker Tinkler
THERE are two distinct approaches to South African football. That much was clear on Sunday morning when the newspapers dropped and we were able to truly assess the damage done to our game by yet another dreadful Soweto derby.

On the one hand we had Timothy Molobi in the City Press assuring us: “What a classic game! What a draw! Even though the match ended with zeroes on the board, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates supporters would have left the stadium a happy lot after what they saw on the pitch.”

Then, in both the Sunday World and the beneath the agonising cricket headlines in the Sunday Times, Tshepang Mailwane revealed the TRUTH: “Stuart Baxter and Eric Tinkler were not playing to win. This is why the Soweto Derby is no longer the entertaining clash it used to be.”

My quote of the day came from Baxter, who assured us: "This was the best derby the crowd will see in a long time. It was great for spectators. Transition after transition." 

But Stuart, 90,000 people don't go to a crunch battle of arch-rivals to see your bloody transitions. They go to see good attacking football, shots on target... and goals.

Anybody who actually appreciates football – and increasingly we get our fix from Spain, England and Germany where teams actually use strikers and play to win – knows that the greatest problem our game faces comes because so many people refuse to tell the truth even when it is staring them in the goalmouth.

Astute analysts know that Baxter, like our national coach Shakes Mashaba and his predecessors Gordon Igesund and Pitso Mosimane, are not the sharpest tacticians in the world. If they were, they’d probably work where their word is law and they can make their own decisions.

Instead, we live in fantasy football world where coaches turn up to find their latest signing is injured and unknown to them. In a world where the greasy palms of agents are more important than encouraging young talent or satisfying the fans. Where players move between Platinum Stars and Orlando Pirates without transfer fees, without argument.

This week, Kaizer Chiefs – 11 points clear in the PSL – will play Maritzburg United tomorrow night in front of a few thousands at the Harry Gwala Stadium. The chasing group - Wits, Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates – are also in action, attempting to keep the title chase alive in front of diminishing crowds.

Though Lux September and the PSL desperately attempt to keep it quiet, our shiny “best professional football league on the continent” is about to slip under 6,000 in terms of average attendances for the first time.

There may even be moments of real footballing excitement for the few who actually go to the stadium this week – Wits are at Amazulu and Chippa United travel to the Orlando Stadium tonight, both fascinating encounters – but for as long as we pretend our game is fit, healthy and thriving, South African football will struggle to catch up with the rest of the continent, let alone the world.

We have to accept both Baxter and Tinkler – still only a caretaker at Pirates despite a ten-game unbeaten run – were simply avoiding defeat rather than playing to win on Saturday. Chiefs barely bother to field a striker these days and never quite tell us why David Zulu and Katlego Mphela don’t feature more regularly.

Internationally, after the empty promises about Argentina, Bafana Bafana face Nigeria on March 29 with SAFA President Danny Jordaan telling us May Mahlangu, Kamohelo Mokotjo and Thulani Serero will all be considered for selection. But nobody has really explained why they didn’t play a part in a pointless Afcon 2015.

Politically, we have smug football writers decrying CAF president Issa Hayatou for being too old at 68 to continue to run an organisation he has dominated since 1988. Yet our own Irvin Khoza is 67 and has ruled our game with an iron fist since the early 1990s. And nobody quite knows how he manages it.

There are simply too many unanswered questions.  Too many half-truths and blatant lies. It starts with match reports and crowd figures. It ends with analysts being silenced and coaches being sidelined for telling the truth.

If you see the Soweto Derby as a fantastic game which entertained 90,000 people on Saturday, then I guess you think Mamelodi Sundowns will trounce TP Mazembe and Kaizer Chiefs will stuff Raja Casablanca in the next round of the African Champions League.

And you’d be the kind of person who honestly believes Bafana were just unlucky at Afcon, that goalkeepers are SUPPOSED to be changed every game and our most talented players are SUPPOSED to stand in line behind journeymen who barely get a regular game for their PSL clubs.

Surely, it’s time to tell it like it is?

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

DON'T TINKER WITH TINKLER: why Orlando Pirates should stop the foreign imports and appoint their caretaker

FOUR GAME STREAK: Pirates caretaker boss Eric Tinkler
ON Saturday at 2.30pm, if there is any justice in the football world, Eric Tinkler will lead Orlando Pirates out for the Soweto Derby as the club’s PERMANENT coach.

Tinkler, twice caretaker/interim/stand-in boss, deserves at least that, though I am writing this before Pirates versus Free State Stars tomorrow night.

Still just 44, the nuggety midfielder played at the top level in Portugal, Italy and England not to mention his 48 games for South Africa. He was a tough opponent on the field and as Benni McCarthy found out after the 2011 Telkom KO final, Tinkler has transferred that passion to the coaching role.

The paragraph that annoyed Wits boss Gavin Hunt before his side's 1-0 win over Mamelodi Sundowns tonight: "The title-holders have two relatively easy matches this week against Bidvest Wits and Free State Stars while the runaway leaders will be engaged in tough encounters at home to both Ajax Cape Town and an Orlando Pirates outfit that suddenly believes the title is no longer out of reach."

The article in the Star newspaper, written by my old pal Matshelane Mamabolo served only to motivate Hunt's men. He said: "They have no respect. The Star article said it would be Sundowns easiest game.

"It didn't come from the Sundowns officials, it came from the journalist himself. We put it up on the dressing room wall. Sheez, they show us no respect."

Link to full article here: