AFCON

Bafana must 'have a go'

2013-01-28 13:03
Gordon Igesund (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - They gave us as many palpitations as whoops of joy along the three-match road but South Africa, warts and all, have achieved their first Africa Cup of Nations 2013 objective of reaching the knockout phase.

Just how to sum up Bafana Bafana’s current capabilities is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and all bound together by a puzzle.

GALLERY: Bafana Bafana v Morocco

VIDEO: Bafana Bafana v Morocco

Lamentably sterile in the goalless draw with Cape Verde, dashing and predominantly polished in the comfortable victory over Angola ... and then liberal smatterings of all those characteristics in the helter-skelter, nerve-jangling Group A finale against Morocco.

All that really matters now is that after intermittent periods throughout Sunday’s 2-2 stalemate at Moses Mabhida Stadium when they flirted very dangerously with elimination, Bongani Khumalo’s charges somehow, instead, ended their first-phase obligations as table-toppers.

They will play soon-to-be-decided Group B opponents in a quarter-final - again in Durban, an increasingly happy hunting ground - next weekend, the country’s first ascent to that status at AFCON since Mali 2002.

There can be little doubt that, with such illustrious, superstar-laden continental rivals as Ghana and Ivory Coast still firmly in the tourney hunt, South Africa will remain relatively unlikely winners in the eyes of most astute critics as they enter the last eight.

Bafana, sadly, retain some pretty glaring elements of naivety and self-destructiveness, even as a welcome sense of belief and vibrancy has been increasingly taking root after a truly dire opening match.

But they do, as host nation, have a puncher’s chance.

I would suggest that their best course of action for the knockout programme, despite the likely temptation to the contrary (sometimes underdogs attempt to play cling-on football against technically superior sides, subconsciously seeking the lotto-like sanctuary of extra time and penalties) will be to keep “having a crack” regardless of the calibre of foes they confront up the drag.

If their fickle displays so far have confirmed one thing, it is that Bafana remain well less than assured for defensive cohesion and competence and can also be wasteful and imprecise when they attempt to ease back the throttle and play a more cagey, possession-based game.

No, the best route for the remainder of the tournament for them is to snap spiritedly at heels, knock more highly-touted opponents off their stride if possible and play to an up-tempo, counter-attacking template where they can maximise the strengths they do possess.

Some of their most thrilling and effective moments thus far, after all, have been when they break down enemy raids and catch them unawares with sweeping up-field advances themselves – this was especially evident against Angola, where Lehlohonolo Majoro’s put-‘em-to-bed strike on the break may yet be a candidate for goal of the tournament because of the buccaneering manner in which it was manufactured.

Bafana may have some ongoing woes in terms of composure in front of goal, but they have also tended to be lively enough around the fringes of the attack-zones through the endeavours - even if not always productive or suitably cool-headed - of such customers as Thuso Phala, May Mahlangu, Tokelo Rantie and Thulani Serero.

If there is one area in which coach Gordon Igesund could be tempted to play a slightly more pragmatic starting hand, it might be in pairing stalwart Reneilwe Letsholonyane (employed largely as a substitute thus far) with the again impressively motor-beat Dean Furman in midfield.

Pundit Marks Maponyane, the striker who represented Bafana in the immediate post-isolation era, correctly noted in a radio interview on Monday that someone like Mahlangu, who coolly notched South Africa’s first equaliser on Sunday, came much more into his own in an offensive capacity when those two more “holding” players were brought together during the second half against Morocco.

Otherwise, though, South Africa’s likeliest way to worry sturdier and more street-wise opponents, from here on in, is not too tamper too greatly with their structural mix or philosophy from the respective Angola and Morocco games (though Katlego Mphela was curiously anonymous, while he lasted, in the main striking role on Sunday).

Yes, for all their shortcomings, Bafana will have an even less likely shot at the title if they retreat into their shells, attempting a conservative, low-paced game they are simply not suited to executing well.

Just another reason for confidence in retaining a strong measure of boldness is that in the form of Itumeleng Khune, the country boasts a goalkeeping shot-stopper, and swift, brainy assessor of possible peril, of ever-swelling repute.

He still flaps a bit at crosses, and cannot be absolved of responsibility for the early goal conceded to the Moroccans, but his one-on-one work was absolutely top-drawer, and quite possibly the key difference between victory and debilitating defeat.

Thrills and spills, a gambler’s streak ... they will give us further cause for nail-gnawing, but those are the only feasible ways for South Africa henceforth, by my book.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    bafana bafana  |  afcon  |  soccer
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