George Dearnaley

Benni shines for Bafana

2008-09-05 05:46

George Dearnaley

I've just finished watching Bafana take on Australia in an international friendly played in London, and what I've seen has given me renewed hope.

Australia are one of the top teams in the Asian qualification section, and are currently 35 positions ahead of South Africa in the Fifa rankings.

Over the last four years, Australia have shown steady improvement in their rankings, moving from 64th in October 2004 to their current position of 38th. South Africa on the other hand have been on a steady downward slide, and have drifted from 41st to a very low 73rd in the world.

But anyone watching this match would have got the answer wrong if asked to rank the team in the top 40 in the world. Australia mostly hoofed it upfield and tried to get on the end of things, while Bafana played football, and knocked the ball around with some style. Having said that though, you have to ask why we couldn't beat them! (The answer in two paragraphs time!)

Our two goals were both created by the enigmatic Benni McCarthy, back in a Bafana jersey and doing what he does best - creating havoc for opposition defences. I've always maintained that he is our best striker and must be in the Bafana team if we are to have a chance of success. I haven't always understood his reasons for 'retiring' and I haven't always agreed with some of his comments to the media, but Benni is world class.

Formation is defensive

Unfortunately for him, he is not first choice at Blackburn Rovers, and although our most dangerous player on the night, looked a little rusty around the goal area. We need him fit and healthy and full of confidence if we are to get some decent results in the next few years.

My only criticism on the night by way of tactics was the 4-5-1 formation that employed two 'anchors' in midfield. This type of formation is defensive and guaranteed to get you a draw - and that's why we didn't beat Australia on the night. We had them on the ropes for a big part of the second half, but with limited players going forward, were not able to finish the job. But I understand coach Joel Santana's thinking - especially after the disastrous string of results in recent months - and the performance was better than the result, and that is often more important in a friendly match.

Good performances from Siyabonga Nkosi, Bryce Moon, Bradley Carnell, Teko Modise and McCarthy will have the Bafana boss happy. I'm not convinced by MacBeth Sibaya, although he does a lot of hard work, he gives the ball away too easily. Aaron Mokoena must also stick to his job of winning the ball and passing it to the nearest player - his long range passing was often wayward, and wasteful.

But there was a lot to be happy about; enough reasons to suggest there might be something to cheer about in 2010 and also great to see the South African supporters who turned up for the match, wearing the various national sports jerseys (Boks and Bafana), with flags and painted faces, shouting support and even trying to get a bit of 'Shosholoza' going - much better than a vuvuzela!

Nigeria go for gold

I also watched the Olympic semi-final between Nigeria and Belgium - Nigeria winning 4-1 and qualifying for the final. This is the same Nigeria team that beat our Under-23 team in the African qualifiers, and they showed that they are a force to be reckoned with during the entire tournament.

The Nigerian team has struck a balance between raw pace and power, with skill and discipline. There are still some defensive weaknesses that are a result of lack of concentration at crucial set pieces, but they counter this with explosive pace on the attack.

They will face Argentina in the final, after they destroyed arch-rivals Brazil 3-0 in the second semi-final. This match has all the ingredients of an absolute cracker, and I will be holding thumbs, and shouting my support for the Super Eaglets as they attempt to win gold for Africa.

  • George is Media24's Mr Soccer.

    Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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