Cape Town – Perhaps Bafana Bafana’s recent inability to find
the net will continue in their second Africa Cup of Nations group match against
Angola at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Wednesday (17:00).
After all, that particular malaise has deepening roots.
Maybe they will also grind out another ho-hum goalless draw
... and if the later game on the Durban double-header bill between Morocco and
Cape Verde Islands similarly features yet another stalemate, Group A will
genuinely develop into a quartet of particularly grim “death” ahead of Sunday’s
Considering the thick fog of uncertainty and consternation
over our much-maligned and just as often ridiculed national soccer team, heck,
this particular group going right to the wire might not be such a bad thing?
After all, just reaching the knockout phase will be a source
of great relief, even if it all comes down to a nail-biting, lottery-type
environment to squeeze Bafana through.
Of course a wretchedly untimely, maiden defeat to the
Angolans on Wednesday will leave South Africa on a knife edge, so that is the
one result the vast majority of an anticipated crowd of over 55 000 will be
praying does not materialise.
But if they are to slug out the very minimum requirement,
you would imagine, of a point, I can think of plenty of compatriots who will be
fervently wishing one key, soul-lifting thing as an accompaniment: a
performance that at least contains some semblance of zip and urgency.
These were qualities so abjectly lacking in the AFCON opener
-- an insufferable spectacle for all who watched it worldwide and a dreadful
early-tourney advertisement, frankly, for African football.
The subsequent buzzword around the Bafana camp is that the
team inexplicably “froze” through a collective fit of nerves.
Froze? As host nation? Against a collection of 10 remote
islands wholly uninhabited before the 15th Century when Portuguese maritime
explorers first set foot on them?
It seems a strange affliction, especially when you consider
that in Gordon Igesund’s first match as head coach, South Africa had a rip-roaring
go at the most iconic soccer nation of all, Brazil, in their presumably rather
imposing Sao Paulo stronghold.
Yes, as recently as the southern hemisphere spring,
remember, Bafana kept the Brazilians, featuring many seriously heavyweight
names, at bay for 74 minutes in an up-tempo international friendly, before
succumbing by a 1-0 score-line and earning rightful, widespread plaudits for
their tenacity and no lack of technical competence, either.
Though it may seem a trifle bizarre to say it, I would argue
that the next best performance by the national side in the Igesund era may well
have been another 1-0 outcome against Bafana – the much more recent game
against Norway at Cape Town Stadium.
Spurred on by vibrant, atmospheric support in a city they
seldom grace, South Africa’s big redeeming quality -- on a night where the
scoreboard served as the only, infuriating signal to the contrary – was the
extent to which they monopolised possession and territory and created both constructive
space and a steady stream of scoring opportunities.
I took my British father-in-law, a retired sportswriter from
the Fleet Street newspaper heyday, to that match, and as we left he rightly
lamented to me: “I’m not quite sure how you managed to lose that ... you really
didn’t look like a bad side, you know.”
Against Cape Verde, by significant contrast, there was just
no life, ambition or general acumen about Bafana at all.
The match as a whole was straight out of Palookaville: I
have seen better gusto and positional shape out of a bunch of over-45s fuelled
predominantly by hangovers on a Sunday morning club pitch.
The teams were as inept as each other for the most part,
only dragging each other down into the spiral of torpor.
How unedifying it was to see Bafana players riddled with
doubt while on the ball, before sloppily surrendered it to the opposition
through wayward or occasionally crazily overcooked passing.
How galling to see corner kicks only delivered innocuously
into touch beyond the far post, way out of reach of head or goalkeeping hand.
How demoralising to see inexplicably panicked South African
defenders fly-hacking the ball somewhere ... anywhere!
There are knockers out there who, sometimes for their own
often slightly twisted or bigoted reasons, seek only to belittle Bafana Bafana:
boy, were their agendas aided.
Plenty of us are more temperate, reasonable, and hopeful –
because we have, indeed, seen them show mettle, show panache (even if too often
inconsistently within specific matches).
Honour, desire and pure willingness to actually “play” some
football, remain important, comforting devices, even in times of relative
Bafana would do well to remember that as they prepare for
second-match battle at AFCON 2013.
They have served up successive, veritable snore-fests over
the past few days -- pre-tourney against Algeria and then so depressingly when
the optimists among us figured they would just naturally lift a notch for the much-hyped
Cape Verde opening fixture.
Please, Bafana, give us something to grab onto, won’t you?
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing