Bafana's hopes hit early snag
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
In more than 40 years of trying, Ethiopia has only ever won a single game away from home in the Soccer World Cup qualifiers.GALLERY: Past weekend in pictures
That was at the start of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers when they went to Nouakchott and beat minnows Mauritania 1-0.
The only goal in that game four years ago came from Said Saladin, who powered in a striking effort at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace yesterday that threatened to hand Ethiopia a second away win.
In the end, Bafana Bafana’s late equaliser avoided the deep embarrassment of losing in the opening game of the easiest group any of the continent’s established footballing powers have been handed in the race for places in Brazil in 2014.
On paper, Bafana Bafana should win home and away against each of Botswana, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia in Group A, and cruise through to the playoffs at the end of next year.
But as has now become tradition, they seek to make things as difficult as possible for themselves.
The 1-1 draw at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace - which must now surely must be dispensed of as a venue for Bafana Bafana matches because no one bothers to turn up there - means Bafana are already off to a poor start and now to have to play catch-up from the opening whistle.
It was yet another typical Bafana Bafana performance, full of pace, promise and fire, a lot of swift passing and, once Punch Masenamela came on, some good running down the flanks.
But again there were poor choices made at crucial moments, beginning as early as the second minute when Siyabonga Nomvete was free at goal, albeit at a tight angle, but he swept his ball across the goalmouth when a deft little pass would have been enough to put South Africa ahead.
Siphiwe Tshabalala is fast approaching 70 caps for the country but is remembered really only for the goal against Mexico two years ago.
There is no doubt he is a quality player but for all the running and dribbling, and the obvious skill, he serves to frustrate the pace of the attack and does not make enough decisive passes.
There was a little moment in the first half that summed it all up as he easily swept by two defenders in a tight spot near the corner flag only to deliver a hopeless cross that sailed too far over everyone’s head. Frustrating that he has all that ability but there is not enough care taken about using it to maximum effect.
Also costly for Bafana were players being caught offside at crucial junctures of the game, emphasising that there is still a maturity lacking in the South African team. As the modern game grows and become tougher - and lowly ranked countries like Ethiopia can come and prove competitive - so everything the national team players do must be properly thought out and conscientiously executed. The days of operating on instinct are over.
Katlego Mphela effectively saved Pitso Mosimane’s job with the late equaliser but Bafana will not be feared by any of their upcoming World Cup opponents. And that will not make it easier to get to Brazil.
Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.
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