Bafana: A nation yawns
Cape Town – I have just thought of a great new way to punish petty South African criminals: subject them to a second viewing of Saturday’s opening match of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
It ought to make them mend their mischievous ways in a hurry.
Repeat offences? Well, just roll that video nasty again and again ... it will sure as heck never get any better.VIDEO: South Africa v Cape Verde - highlights
On an evening where the seemingly unrelenting, low blanket of Highveld clouds over the damp National Stadium in Johannesburg fittingly summed up the funereal feel to proceedings, South Africa and Cape Verde Islands dished up a nil-nil Group A slop, without even a handy salt or pepper pot to slightly enliven it.
Tax returns and hospital sign-in forms have been completed with more relish, cupboards emptied and cleaned with more panache and verges trimmed with greater ambition and incisiveness than the horrible 90-minute fare which followed such enthusiastic and largely well-meaning domestic hype.
There was never going to be a guarantee of genuine sparkle from Bafana Bafana, given the long-time nervous national soccer psyche, but we did all hope that a tangible wave of pre-tournament patriotism might send blood pumping with special gusto through their collective veins, giving them an energy that would be instrumental in dismantling the western African archipelago.
Instead the match was like watching a tap drip, and being powerless to arrest the tedium.
I guess we should give credit to Cape Verde: this was a good result for them, considering the not insignificant drawback of playing at high altitude and before the sort of attendance many of their ranks would not have experienced previously – even if the particularly lashing rain ahead of kick-off meant the venue fell some way short of the anticipated full house.
They were no worse than Bafana and (ouch, don’t say it too loudly) perhaps even a fraction better, given that the better opportunities to break the deadlock went their way. That was really what made the fixture so galling if you were South African.
“How do you expect to win a game with two shots on target?” lamented Neil Tovey, the country’s AFCON-winning captain of 1996, in the SuperSport studio during post-game analysis.
“There was no cohesion in our play. No link play. We seemed scared when someone had the ball, and there was no movement. We were dead in every department.
“You try to be positive but ... disappointing.”Shaun Bartlett
was no less damning: “Lethargic ... no energy.”
And Benni McCarthy
was perhaps being overly charitable when he suggested that “every player has to up his game by 20 percent” if Bafana are to still progress to the quarter-finals. There will be those more inclined to recommend fifty as the very bottom line.
There were question marks around the team’s ability to be creative before AFCON began: they could not score in respective warm-up friendlies against Norway or Algeria, and the latest outcome means it has been some 286 minutes since South Africa last netted (the third and final strike, a penalty by May Mahlangu
, in the 3-1 win over Malawi at Moses Mabhida Stadium shortly before Christmas).
Minor comfort is that only one loss has been recorded during the listed barren spell, against the second-string Norwegians at Cape Town Stadium.
Mind you, even that result was somehow more palatable because it was one of those occasions where a hatful of chances were created, and you left quite bewildered how Bafana had not, in fact, won by three or four goals instead of playing second fiddle.
On Saturday, as the protagonists produced the first opening-game goalless stalemate in AFCON history, there was not even that small mercy from South Africa – their dead-ball delivery was often abject, through-balls misdirected or chronically over-hit, and possession as quickly squandered as it was secured.
There were fitful rays of light: Reneilwe Letsholonyane was composed throughout, if not actually notably influential, and when the ring-rusty Thulani Serero
replaced an impotent Siphiwe Tshabalala
on the hour mark he offered some hints of thrust.
Whilst some boos did, inevitably, ring out at the final whistle, for the most part it seemed the assembled faithful were astonishingly patient, I felt, with Bongani Khumalo
But any repeat of such tedium and lifelessness against Angola in Durban on Wednesday – where a win will surely be the only way to stave off a real white-knuckle ride in the last group fixture against Morocco? – and such generosity may dry up in a great hurry.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing