Cape Town – South Africa’s second and final match on their controversial Australasian tour, against New Zealand on Friday, suddenly looks a bit more like a potential watershed affair than it would have before the raw, hastily-cobbled-together squad set out on the trip.
What happens to both the future complexion of the Bafana Bafana squad and Gordon Igesund’s supposedly very tenuous hold on the coaching position if Bafana Bafana end the mission as positively as it has begun?
Monday’s gutsy and well-merited 1-1 Sydney draw with Australia, participants in the imminent World Cup in Brazil, was a tonic of some substance to our long-suffering soccer public; should Bafana follow it up by either beating or at least comfortably holding and asking good questions of the New Zealanders, the cat will be set among the pigeons to a good extent as far as medium-term strategy is concerned.
Not only would it make replacing Igesund as boss not the fait accompli some have been suggesting for months it should be, but it would bring back into extremely critical focus the indifference to the venture shown by a host of supposedly senior Bafana players.
“Tiredness after the long season” or “holiday plans” and “niggles” were offered up by a variety of stalwarts – if they even bothered to communicate with Igesund at all – in the lead-up to the exercise.
Suddenly, and with public sentiment pretty well disposed toward the unsung characters who ground out the Aussie stalemate before a crowd of 50 000, those excuses may come back to bite the absentees in several instances.
Let’s face it, it’s not as though Bafana were exactly flying before they went Down Under, and if certain players are whinging about fatigue, critics may be quick to point out that one last, honest effort in national colours would have been a reasonable ask before non-participants in the World Cup extravaganza put their feet up and look on enviously from their living rooms for a solid month soon anyway.
Intriguingly complicating matters is that the necessary freshening and widespread experimentation has shown a smattering of fruit: if this was Bafana ‘B’, then some incumbent ‘A’ personnel may just be regretting their sidestepping of the mission as some demotions could follow.
Early on against the Socceroos, Igesund’s combo, who had only had two or three meaningful sessions to get used to each other, looked ominously under the cosh as the Aussies deliberately pushed the ball around with urgency and intent in the final third of the pitch to try to rattle them straight from the stalls.
The more the contest wore on, however, the more South Africa began to develop some shape of their own, coupled with the necessary resilience to keep the fancied hosts firmly at bay.
Best of all, really, was the welcome “ticker” and energy shown by the young troops.
“This is our team going forward now,” a chipper Igesund enthused afterwards, even if perhaps notably prematurely ... and taking the cheeky luxury of suggesting, by extension, that he’ll be staying around to develop it.
All of the good vibe could change in a jiffy in Auckland, and secretly he will know it.
Friendly internationals, of course, always need to be accompanied by a liberal pinch of salt these days – some pampered professionals at bigger clubs don’t even muster maximum energy for competition-level clashes between countries - but there can also be no denying that the Australian squad were up for it, not least because of the presumably healthy scrap for starting berths in Brazil, where the Socceroos meet Chile first up on June 13.
So that puts Bafana’s result into further, favourable perspective.
That said, the danger must still exist that South Africa crash back to earth with a nasty bump against New Zealand in what is (dangerously in mental terms, maybe?) the “easier” match for them on paper: the All Whites, unlike the slightly higher-ranked Aussies, lie well below them on the current FIFA ratings at No 111 to their 65th.
So Bafana lose their underdog tag to a good degree on Friday, despite the callow look to their playing squad, so fresh, all too glaring vulnerabilities cannot be ruled out.
But if they come through with flying colours again, this once seemingly inconsequential sort of tour may prove a wholly unexpected catalyst for a new beginning.
It may sound an inappropriately Antipodean thing to say, but “go you good things” will be a increasingly audible rallying cry from South African mouths on Friday for Igesund’s largely baby-faced brigade ...
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