Cape Town - Following Bafana Bafana’s unbeaten run in the 2015 AFCON qualification, Tashreeq Vardien believes coach Shakes Mashaba has built a definite team for the future.
Player ratings: Nigeria v Bafana
Six games and no losses, an impressive statistic for South Africa’s senior national football team - which may come as a shock to many.
Having blown Shakes Mashaba’s whistle way before Bafana Bafana even kicked off their first duel against Sudan in Khartoum, they returned home victorious having brushed their hosts aside with three goals, courtesy of a Sibusiso Vilakazi brace and a Bongani Ndulula tap-in.
With Itumeleng Khune sidelined through an ankle injury, Mashaba gave the goalkeeping position - as well as the captain’s armband - to the late Senzo Meyiwa. The former Orlando Pirates No 1 showed that he was an important element to South Africa’s first four clean sheets as he put in outstanding performances in goal and as captain.
Following his death, Mashaba had to rely on Darren Keet and the 25-year-old showed in the past two games why he was often No 3 to Khune and Meyiwa. In that same goalkeeping crop, Mashaba called up Kaizer Chiefs’ MTN8 final hero, Brilliant Khuzwayo, and Khune’s understudy makes for a good second-choice - and a possible third when Khune eventually returns. It makes for good competition in future Bafana camps.
Mashaba gave starts to defenders Thulani Hlatshwayo (24) and Eric Mathoho (24) against Sudan and Nigeria. They helped keep a clean sheet and were strong and showed “patriotism” - as did the other nine players on the day.
For the next three games, 18-year-old Rivaldo Coetzee was called-up to partner Mathoho in the heart of the defence following an injury to Hlatshwayo.
“From what I have seen, he seems to be a reliable defender. He has a calm, steady approach and he will improve on this as he plays more matches," said Bafana legend Mark Fish of the 18-year-old following South Africa’s 2-0 win against Congo in Poite-Noire. The last game against the Super Eagles, Tefu Mashamaite replaced Coetzee and showed that experience will always come in good hand, off and on the field.
"If we look from now until 2022... that made us take into consideration the age group we need in this team. I think this is what our future should be based on - the youth of the country. Yes we want results, but let's build up for the future so we come up with sustainable results. We need more consistency,” said Mashaba in his first squad announcement in August.
When referring to the spine in football, it is the "middle path" of the starting XI which is from the goalkeeper right down to the striker. Mashaba is clearly working on giving Bafana a strong spine which is a reliable goalkeeper, central defenders that can defend, a strong midfield pairing and a scoring striker - and he might finally have it all.
Andile Jali and Dean Furman’s pairing is the most important one for Bafana as they provide a stern defensive understanding and has a hand in offence when called upon. Furman holds well just in front of the defence and switches accordingly with Jali who often plays the box-to-box midfield role depending on the opposition. They complement each other which balances out a South African side that could never develop its strongest midfield pairing since the 1990s.
It’s early days, but Tokelo Rantie looks like the full strikers' package. He has an obvious eye for goal and it shows, particularly when he is in great form. Rantie has the aptitude to keep up with defenders who have pace and shows that he too can challenge strong defences as he did against Nigeria. The Bournemouth striker is a notable threat when he hits his peak form and hopefully it stays there for as long as possible in terms of Bafana Bafana’s chances in Equatorial Guinea.
It has been proven in the many leagues around the world and especially at World Cups that having a strong spine is the way forward for any team. Ghana’s 2010 Soccer World Cup team that went all the way to the quarter-finals had Richard Kingston as goalkeeper, Isaac Vorsah and John Mensa in the heart of their defence, Kwadwo Asamoah, Anthony Annan and Kevin-Prince Boateng in midfield while Asamoah Gyan played as a lone striker. This Black Stars team had a strong spine from the goalkeeping position to the striker. Kingston was in his prime at 32-years-old while Gyan was only 24-years-old. Most of these players returned for the next World Cup in Brazil, but were grouped with Germany, United States and Portugal which saw them finish last. Germany's current World Cup success proved to be the same with Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Phillip Lahm, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller.
Bafana's development structures have just started to get into a successful regime, but it needs some years before it can be fruitful.
Mashaba has insisted that 2022 is the vision and while we cannot look into the future one can only bask in the sterling form Bafana Bafana are displaying, thankfully to a 'spine' that is finally coming together.
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