Tumo Mokone

Bafana rise for minor battles

2010-01-22 13:04
Sport24 columnist Tumo Mokone (File)
Tumo Mokone

Bafana Bafana finally return to action on Saturday and next Wednesday, as part of their ongoing camp in Durban. The training camp is for 29 home-based players, some of whom national coach Carlos Alberto Parreira will select to be part of the final World Cup squad.

It makes perfect sense, therefore, that both matches should be held in Durban. On Saturday the SA team meets Swaziland in a practice match at Chatsworth. Caps will not be awarded as the encounter will be a mere training match. But tiny Swaziland will be determined to stage some giant-killing against a team which is still trying to find its footing after Parreira’s second takeover late last year.

The second match, against Zimbabwe, will be a full friendly international at the magnificent World Cup venue, Moses Mabhida Stadium. The irony of these matches taking place during the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations will not be lost on both Bafana and Zimbabwe. The two powerhouses of southern African football are smarting from the indignity of watching the AFCON spectacle from afar.

While Angola and Zambia continue to carry the flag in AFCON, SA and Zimbabwe may want to prove who is the top dog in the region, despite their absence from the African championship. South Africa, however, should feel more desperate for positive results, to bolster their status as World Cup hosts. Had Bafana did the right thing first time, by qualifying for 2010 AFCON, they would not have agonised about playing low profile friendlies to get some practice for the World Cup.

The good thing about the matches is that they will show Parreira and his assistants the route to take going forward after the Durban gathering. Some of the players in the 29-man camp do not deserve to be anywhere near the national team. Parreira says he does not consider current form alone, as his selection policy looks at the temperament, mental maturity and leadership qualities of a player.

Admirable philosophy the Brazilian mentor espouses. However the selection of players like Gert Schalkwyk and Thulasizwe Mbuyane, ironically both of Orlando Pirates, do not tie in well with Parreira’s purported beliefs. While Mbuyane is not only hesitant about taking up leadership roles, his form is also way off the mark.

Even more difficult for Mbuyane is the confusion whether he is a striker or midfielder. Parreira has selected him as a striker, just because that’s what Pirates are trying – all in vain – to make of him. Mbuyane played marvellous football as a swash-buckling right wing during his days with Free State Stars. These days, unfortunately, he gets by groping in the dark, hoping for an occasional luck in front of goals.

Schalkwyk’s case is even a deeper mystery. Six months after joining Pirates from Bloemfontein Celtic he is still struggling to find his footing in the Bucs camp. But Schalkwyk is one player who excels in big occasions; perhaps that’s what Parreira was told about the attacking midfielder from Klerksdorp.

If tenacity, commitment and leadership are what Parreira is looking for then he must explain how Benedict “Tso” Vilakazi was left out. Vilakazi lost his place in the national team during Parreira’s first tenure, not because he underperformed in the national team but because at the time Vilakazi wasn’t getting game time at his former Danish club, Aalborg.

I don’t understand how the attitude of the Danes should have determined what is good for Bafana when coming to Vilakazi. Well, the man has since returned home, and his performance has immensely contributed to Mamelodi Sundowns’ superlative form. I guess after selecting eight other deserving Sundowns players, Parreira just thought nine from one club would be too much and had to sacrifice one he likes the least.

Anyway, Parreira should be commended for recognising the form of guys like Luvhengo Mungomeni, Siyanda Xulu and Matthew Pattison, the former Newcastle and Norwich City midfielder who returned home to fight for the World Cup berth.

Bafana can ill-afford to mess up now. It is bad enough that we failed to qualify for Angola 2010, but failure to put up a decent team to see off the likes of Swaziland and Zimbabwe on home soil will be inexcusable. I know the technical team’s argument will be that these matches are for finding combinations and for employing the coach’s philosophy.

It must be noted that Swaziland is coached by South African soccer legend, Shakes Mashaba, who at one time was fired from the Bafana hot seat after losing just twice in 19 matches! Mashaba likes to talk about his unceremonious exit from Bafana six years ago as “water under the bridge”. But those who remember Shakes from his playing days as captain of Pirates and later Moroka Swallows, say the man does not take kindly to impertinence.

That should be a clear warning for Bafana’s Saturday “training match”: shape up or fall to Mashaba and his tiny Swazi army.      

Tumo writes exclusively for Sport24.

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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