Cape Town – Botswana versus South Africa, World Cup
qualifier, Gaborone, June; Brazil v South Africa, international friendly, Sao
Paulo, September ... they are not matches you would place alongside each other in
some kind of spot-the-difference competition, would you?
The gap, after all, would just be too humungous.
Of course the irony would be that Bafana Bafana did not lose
the first-named outing to the notable minnows, coming home with a 1-1 share of
the insipid spoils, whereas they returned from Brazil empty-handed in practical
terms courtesy of a 1-0 loss.
But we all know which match constituted greatly the more
satisfying of the two from a South African point of view: the narrow reverse to
the team still boasting the sexiest global “brand” in soccer goes down as one
of the most inspiring results for Bafana since the 2011 World Cup.
Simply, there was no comparison between the national side
who stumbled so soullessly and lethargically to the stalemate in Gaborone, and
the audacious, physically committed and vibrant outfit who marked Gordon
Igesund’s coaching debut in a true pressure-cooker environment on Friday.
Plenty of boxes could be enthusiastically ticked: for all
his lingering eccentricity in other areas, goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune
confirming his reputation as a fine shot-stopper, Bongani Khumalo showing
encouraging signs in central defence of restoring his upward curve after a
problematic year or two, Dean Furman looking assured and constructive on debut in
midfield, some exquisite( if a bit too periodic) touches from Thulani Serero
... the list goes on.
Slightly tempering the optimism, however, should be the
realisation that Bafana traditionally do tend to reserve their most dynamic,
raise-the-bar showings for “glamour” opponents ranked considerably higher than
Even in defeat to such powerhouses, South Africa are pretty
good at leaving on the pitch at least some crumbs of comfort.
It is when they are expected to roll up their sleeves
against more moderate or sometimes even rank flimsy foes on paper – most often
of the fellow-African variety – that they are often likelier to give their
long-suffering supporters palpitations.
Such an instance immediately presents itself in the
picturesque setting of Mbombela Stadium on Tuesday, where their latest friendly
sees them lock horns (20:35) with neighbours Mozambique.
Both teams will be able to cite some element of
disadvantage, heading into what represents a fourth meeting between the
countries (Bafana have always previously won).
The South African side may well still be travel-weary after
their long-haul flight back from South America on Saturday, but Mozambique will
be footsore too – they will have had only a 48-hour turnaround from their home
Afcon 2013 qualifier against Morocco and may well “rotate” certain personnel as
Any trepidation they may have about the trip to Nelspruit,
considering Bafana’s sprightly showing in Sao Paulo, will be offset by their
2-0 triumph against the Moroccans, who may be no great shakes at present but
are nevertheless four-time past qualifiers (1970, 1986, 1994, 1998) for World
It would be just as
heartening a development if Bafana, supposedly buoyed by a fresh level of
motivation and zest under Igesund, confirm it in their own habitat ... this
time against opponents (35 notches below them on the rankings at 109th)
they will be expected to beat.
Can they successfully turn industrial, now that they’re decidedly
not going toe to toe with the fanciest dans of world football?
This, in some respects, could be a more realistic test of
any progress ...
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