Bafana come of age
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
As we mark a year since the Soccer World Cup kicked off on South African soil, so the marked improvement of Bafana Bafana was again evidenced in Cairo last night.
Actually, that is being somewhat flippant. It was a remarkable result against a genuine continental power that puts the South African side now on the cusp of qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
When the draw for the 2012 qualifiers was made, few would have given the national side a chance of finishing above Egypt in the qualifying group, yet now with two games to go, Pitso Mosimane’s team need just three points to make sure of top place and a berth in the finals next January.
South Africa have come long way from the lowly ranked side that was battling for form and devoid of any confidence before last World Cup and who, indeed, became the first host nation to fail to get past the first round of a World Cup tournament.
Mosimane’s side have sprung up the rankings and the goalless draw will shift them up even further, possibly into the top 30 which is vitally important for a good permutation for the upcoming 2014 World Cup draw in Rio de Janeiro on July 30.
The game in Cairo could have been won several times over by Bafana, although Itumeleng Khune must be praised for his role in keeping a clean sheet. (I’m still baffled at his omission from the Goalkeeper of the Year award last week).
Without Steven Pienaar the side were severely hampered, yet showed resilience and fortitude.
Andile Jali stepped into the midfield breach to deliver a stellar performance. He has the brash arrogance of youth on his side and a cocky self-confident swagger that ensured he was in no way intimidated by the big names lined-up against him in the Egyptian side.
Morgan Gould had a strong game in defence and the fullbacks again proved quick enough to deal with several dangerous opponents, although their choice of tackles sometime flirted with extreme danger.
However, Katlego Mphela did his chances of securing an overseas move in the next weeks no favours at all with his misses. He has the pace to out run defences but if he wants to join a top quality team he has to learn to finish his chances.
Twice he was one-on-one against Egypt goalkeeper Essam Al Hadari and twice he failed to score. Tlou Segolela had a similar chance late on too and, for all of their ability to manufacture real scoring opportunities, Bafana Bafana persists with the problem of failing to finish.
Egypt gave their opponent much more space than they did at Ellis Park in March. Then they came for a draw, last night they had to win.
It played into Mosimane’s hands and how different the result might have been had Pienaar been available.
But it his churlish to gripe. It is as big a result, in a qualifying campaign as South Africa has ever had. As good as the win in Zambia when Mosimane was in charge for the first time; the victory in Harare which sparked a tragic riot and success in Pointe Noire when Thabo Mngomeni scored with that spectacular bicycle kick.
Next up for Bafana Bafana is a trip to Niger where a win would do the trick. Niger are usually among African soccer’s whipping boys but have shown great improvement in this campaign.
But Niamey in September could be the destination where this Bafana Bafana generation truly comes of age.Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.Disclaimer:
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