Get real over Bafana, people!
Kagiso Dikgacoi (AP Photo)
Cape Town – Only the spectacularly naive and excessively demanding will be painting a renewed portrait of doom and gloom in the wake of South Africa’s 1-0 friendly loss to Poland in Warsaw on Friday.
It’s a pity, of course, that there are so many of these dubious pundits, both amateur and professional. Sadly the rest of us have to put up with them.
Notable numbers of such people -- judging by what you see on Twitter, the blogosphere and even in some sections of the print media on Saturday -- crept out of their holes to curse the outcome, their indignation matched only by their severe misdiagnosis of reality.
How dare we lose to Poland?
Well, I can give you some statistically watertight suggestions, for starters: the Poles may not exactly be European luminaries right now but they are a proud footballing nation with deeper international traditions than South Africa, even if our country was impeded for decades in that regard by isolation.
Poland are 54th on the current FIFA rankings, which is probably lower than their enthusiastic public wish for ... and it is still all of 22 notches better than Bafana Bafana.
They are veterans of seven World Cup tournaments and even sport two third-placed finishes (1974 and 1982). Their amateur side earned Olympic gold in 1972.
To this day, ask any of the more heavyweight European soccer teams – Germany, Spain, France, and others – about confirmed or prospective missions to Poland and they are bound to tell you, and not by way of polite platitude, that it is a tough little trek.
England go to Warsaw for a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, deceptively buoyed by a 5-0 drubbing of San Marino ... but also mindful that an altogether more acid test is imminent.
Against that backdrop, Bafana earning parity until as late as the agonising 82nd minute against Poland – and this on top of a reasonably similar occurrence in Brazil – surely has to be considered another tentative step in the right direction?
It is true that it took at least two sublime close-range shot stops from goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune to possibly prevent the visitors from losing by a broader margin, but offsetting this is that South Africa came within a whisker of scoring on a couple of occasions themselves.
There is a general rawness -- and especially an inability to retain possession for meaningful periods – about this Bafana side that only reminds you Gordon Igesund has formidable work ahead of him.
But the group of players he is presently working with, rookie and more seasoned alike, have a certain chutzpah and welcome fearlessness about them, too.
They keep going and they play for the proverbial badge, which is not always something Bafana sides of the last 10-15 years could be consistently lauded for.
South Africa, even whilst hardly laden with settled positional combinations, commanded obvious periods of ascendancy, which was enough of a reason for heads not to drop in any shame at the final whistle.
“We’ve put on a brave face; we’ve been aggressive ... we stick together and we keep fighting,” said the articulate new captain Bongani Khumalo in a fairly apt, no-frills appraisal of events at the National Stadium on Friday.
There was a nice dollop of post-mortem honesty, into the bargain, from newly-capped left back Ricardo Nunes, who may have been caught out at times defensively, but also showed great promise as a deliverer of teasing set-piece ball.
The Slovakian-based customer admitted – apparently after the often helter-skelter game was played on a very heavy surface – that he had rather run out of puff on debut “from around 65 minutes”.
Bearing in mind that the contest would have served as a valuable educative experience for Nunes and others, there is no harm in acknowledging that, is there?
It helped that the friendly – so many of this brand of internationals can be tepid and soulless – was fast-paced and for the best part entertaining.
No, to those who feel compelled to start muttering that Bafana are simply back where the sun doesn’t shine and the scent is predominantly odious, I would argue that we could haul out video nasties of infinitely greater gruesomeness from, say, the Santana, Baxter or Mosimane eras for a suitable reality check.
It is when the home-staged African Cup of Nations comes along – and before it maybe also the Nelson Mandela Challenge blue-chip friendly against champions Zambia on November 14 – that Igesund and his ideology will warrant more all-embracing, cards-on-the-table scrutiny.
Until then, and without in any way wishing to come across as a conscious apologist for the coach, he must be given the necessary leeway to continue his testing and tinkering as he seeks to establish, as he put it shortly after Friday’s fixture, “who’s who in the zoo”.
There are some quite appealing animals, actually ...
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