AFCON

Bafana: A nation purrs!

2013-01-23 22:26
Lehlohonolo Majoro (AP)
Cape Town - Reverse the hearse ... the funeral is, at the very least, on happy hold.

The Bafana Bafana mouse, so timid in that desperate Africa Cup of Nations opening match against Cape Verde, suddenly discovered it could roar as Angola were well nigh swept aside in the Group A match at a throbbing Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Wednesday evening.

GALLERY: Bafana Bafana v Angola

Humidity levels were reportedly running at nearly 90 percent despite the welcome sunshine - another marked contrast to the Highveld gloom and sogginess for South Africa’s goalless encounter with the scattered-island nation - but even this was no barrier to Bafana’s immeasurably better urgency and vitality in the follow-up fixture.

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS: Bafana v Angola

The 2-0 scoreline was clear-cut: don’t be too fooled by the opposition management’s rather over-theatrical, constant carping with the various match officials as the match ran its mostly engrossing course.

Was this really the same SA team? Well, not quite.

In a move that was a clear and understandable signal of his angst over the first-up collective display, coach Gordon Igesund altered almost half his line-up for the challenge of the Angolans ... and his new combo simply “clicked” ever more impressively after a freshly tentative first five minutes or so.

They had purpose, shape and thrust, not to mention an eye-opening degree of athleticism for just about the full 90 minutes, which appeared to knock the stuffing out of the unsuspecting “Sable Antelopes”.

The torch was lit early on by Dean Furman, the midfielder who was one of the five new starting faces; his appetite for general activity and his spiky, clattering commitment in the tackle (once or twice overly so) enlivened all around him.

The Oldham-based player ran his socks off in the first half, which went a long way to explaining Bafana’s clear bossing of possession in that period, to the extent that some pundits were rightly wondering whether he would be able to keep his engine from overheating as the game wore on.

Furman was, indeed, slightly less influential after halftime but by then a fierce work ethic and focus was well-installed across the Bafana ranks.

The jitters and tactical bankruptcy from the Cape Verde game just seemed to vanish with welcome stealth - and of course the relief will have been particularly tangible nation-wide over South Africa recapturing the knack of scoring.

Siyabonga Sangweni’s firm, left-footed strike on the half-hour mark (it was certainly not the sort of finish you would associate with a central stopper of the Tony Adams or Steve Bruce kind) broke a drought of some 316 minutes by Bafana.

And how good was Lehlohonolo Majoro?

He did great justice to the “supersub” mantle, being introduced in the 58th minute and then putting the final nail in the Angolan coffin only some four minutes later with his cheeky stab through the legs of the goalkeeper after fine personal build-up work at a tight angle and fellow sub Reneilwe Letsholonyane’s influential ball over the top to him from a thrilling counter-attack.

It was quite invigorating to see the national side, so often the targets of bile and ridicule, heralded on Twitter by sports stars from across the spectrum in South Africa for their spirited efforts against Angola.

Said that square-jawed former Test and ODI cricketer Pat Symcox (@PatSymcox77): “Great Bafana! U go u good thing! Such an important thing for our country and our people! Well done Gordon.”

And this from Springbok and Sharks wing JP Pietersen (@jjpietersen14), presumably at the stadium: “Well done Bafana! The boys played really good football 2night. Atmosphere was amazing, super vibe. Can’t wait for Sunday.”

The swing in performance has been so marked from one AFCON match to the other that we shouldn’t too confidently assume Bafana are smack on course for knockout play: what if they inexplicably return to less desirable habits and, heaven forbid, crash to Morocco on Sunday?

But with a spot of luck, this infestation of renewed self-belief will stick around for a good few days yet ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

HAVE YOUR SAY: How do you rate Bafana Bafana's chances in AFCON 2013 after an improved effort in their second match? Can they go deep into the tournament? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

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