Bafana: Early Brazil hiccup
Bafana Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - It says so much about South Africa’s shaky national soccer psyche that a mood of relief engulfed their camp as they emerged from their opening World Cup 2014 qualifier with a 1-1 home draw
against well-less-than-superpower Ethiopia on Sunday.
The golden sands of Brazil in two years’ time seemed light years away - rather than just a potential couple - as they had to come from behind in the 77th minute, courtesy of Katlego Mphela’s smartly-placed shot, to at least bank a point.
“Killer” hails from just up the drag in Brits, so perhaps it was fitting that it was the striker - who earlier saw his snap header saved at point blank range - who went some way to sparing Bafana Bafana some blushes against the 138th-ranked team in the world at the Royal Bafokeng in Rustenburg.
And while it is true that home-team captain Steven Pienaar
wasted a glorious chance to put away a likely decisive goal not much more than a minute later, the grim truth remained that the Ethiopians, well organised and committed, just about warranted their share of the spoils.
So much, then, for what had certainly looked on paper like Bafana’s “easiest” of the six group games they must play against a trio of opponents whom conventional wisdom suggests they really ought to have the measure of.
As Everton favourite Pienaar honestly stated afterwards, the Black Lions “came here to frustrate us and that’s what they did”.
The Everton midfielder did his own level best once more, as the primary card in the South African pack, to make a difference, even as he was subjected to usual chop-him-down or knock-him-sideways treatment from any Ethiopian who got near him.
But Bafana, collectively, were unacceptably stilted and predictable for the first two thirds of this contest, despite dominating to roughly the same degree in terms of possession.
The one saving grace, perhaps, for coach Pitso Mosimane - around whom question marks will continue to swirl after this result - was that his charges reserved their greatest vibrancy and urgency for the closing stages of the match.
Anyone seeking crumbs of optimism for the outcome may wish to suspect that, considering the fixture was their first outside of friendly combat for some time, the team would take a while to click in a game of greater consequence ... and finally did find some gusto which bodes reasonably well for the next challenge.
Pienaar rightly reckons the quick follow-up match, away to landlocked neighbours Botswana next Saturday, now amounts to a bit of a must-win if South Africa are to seize control, as they should, of their group.
They can hardly whinge that they are truly going “into Africa” for that assignment: it is a mere 275km hop from Johannesburg to Gaborone, although there will probably be a rowdy, potentially awkward derby feel to the occasion for them.
Botswana, for their part, are even more on the back foot because they lost 2-0 away to Central African Republic in their first obligation, and have reportedly been plunged into various forms of off-field turmoil since eclipsing Bafana to a spot in the most recent Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
That said, few South Africans will suggest with overwhelming confidence that Bafana are going to emphatically zap the Zebras after Sunday’s events in Rustenburg.
There was a certain sadness to seeing surprisingly healthy, colourful bunches of Ethiopian supporters celebrating their draw as if it had been a win, whilst home fans in a half-full venue (at best?) either shuffled out quickly or remained grim-faced and lifeless in their seats, contemplative hands on cheeks.
That is the tepid state of the nation in football terms, alas ...
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