How can a team be so bad away from home? How can Bafana Bafana play so well at home against Paraguay and Equatorial Guinea and then go and slump away to Nigeria and Sierra Leone?
I believe it is a mind-set.
Experienced players who have played at difficult away venues know what to prepare for and know how to prepare their minds for the difficulties they will experience. Young players don't think like this. So when those difficulties arise, there is no gameplan, there is no individual thought or action - the players all look to the bench for some help.
It is at times like these when the experienced players need to communicate to the younger players, to get them focused and on the same page. I believe that results are more important than performance at international level - have a look at Italy. Very few supporters will complain if you win 1-0 away from home even if you just sit back and defend the whole match.
In football there are three massive variables that can affect all the coaching preparations in the world. These are the weather, the conditions of the pitch and the temperament of the referee.
Might not qualify
If your gameplan is to keep the ball on the ground and it's raining a lot, then you must consider changing your gameplan - the wet field will slow down the ball. If it's windy - keep the ball on the deck. If the field is hard and bumpy then unfortunately you have to revert to some direct, long balls to cut out the short passing that is difficult on such a pitch. And lastly, if the referee fancies himself and seems to be favouring the opposition, under no circumstances do you do anything that could give him reason to award free-kicks in dangerous areas or penalties.
But the coach can't make these decisions for every player on the pitch. There are times when an international footballer must make these for himself, and sadly I don't see enough 'experienced' decisions being made by our players in the away matches. The end result is that Bafana might not qualify for the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola.
"So what" you might ask, but this tournament gives us a great opportunity to test our final combinations and have a look at everyone in a tough, competitive environment a mere four months prior to the 2010 Soccer World Cup. To miss out would be nothing short of an embarrassment.
Euro 2008 is dull
I love football, so I can find good in most matches I watch - even those 0-0 draws that confound non-football fans, but most of the football played at Euro 2008 has been dull.
There have been some decent matches (Turkey's comeback versus the Czechs!) and some great goals, but the majority of matches consist of possession football played across the back four, into midfield, back to the defence and after 20 passes someone tries to find the lone striker before the ball is intercepted. Now I understand at this level it is important to be compact at the back, and not to take any chances but it does make watching it tedious.
But now we move to the knockout stages, this is where it gets interesting.
I managed to get a bet on Italy at 16/1 before their match against France. These are great odds for the world champions. I also took Germany at 6/1. Spain and Holland, together with Portugal have played the best football, and from a purist point of view you would hope that one of these teams make it to the final, but tournaments are won on defences, and not one of these teams can compete with the quality that both Italy and Germany has at the back. Croatia are dark horses though, but might not have enough depth to get to the final.
There are also massive rumblings with regards the lack of entertainment at the tournament. Fan zones that had been set up in the cities have been mostly ignored. The prices are ridiculous, and the home nations are both out of the tournament - this means local fans have little to celebrate. The warnings are all there for South Africa ahead of 2010. A winning team and a party atmosphere are all that is needed to have a great tournament. I am sure that as South Africans we can sort out the party atmosphere - we just need our local team to come right!
George is Media24's 'Mr Soccer'.
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