Bafana urged to adopt caution
Bafana Bafana’s run of 12 matches without defeat over the last few months is a remarkable turnaround in fortune for a side who have been down in the dumps over the last years.
But coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is quite right in his warning about the team getting too far ahead of itself.
After the weekend win over Denmark, he said: “We have won nothing yet.”
This is correct. The country might be working itself up to into a fever pitch but the positive results have come against a backdrop of preparations, that is in non-competitive circumstances; against opposition of considerably varying strength and each game having its own unique circumstances.
Just like it is dangerous to right off the French, because they have looked so poor in their warm-ups, so it is folly to suddenly believe Bafana Bafana are now going to saunter into the second round.
Certainly their chances are a lot better. The team is obviously very fit and can play at high tempo, the reason why they caught out the Danes late in the game at Atteridgeville on Saturday.
But they still struggling to penetrate and create chances and we already know how many chances on average our strikers usually need before they bury the ball into the net.
Hopefully that percentage will be drastically reduced because all hope now rests on the shoulders of Katlego Mphela.
He is the first choice in the side since the axing of Benni McCarthy.
Kicking the country’s all-time leading scorer off the squad is a bold move by Parreira, who has made it clear he felt McCarthy was not contributing to the spirit of the team and could be a divisive influence through the tournament.
But it is also a gamble. McCarthy, even without the same conditioning as his team-mates, is still the one player the team has with a real predatory instinct in the penalty area.
As an impact player, he might have been a handy tool for tricky situations as a second half substitute, able to provide some prospect for a good 30 minutes or so.
Parreira must be applauded for taking a stand on principle, but is the team now too weak in attack? It puts a lot of responsibility of the shoulders of Mphela, who had a barren run in front of goal this year before suddenly finding form again of late, albeit with the help of some generous penalties.
Friday’s match against Mexico is the biggest South Africa has ever played. Bigger than the 1996 African Nations Cup finals. It is a match on which the success of this 2010 World Cup rests. Defeat and suddenly we will see all this patriotic fervor of the last weeks rapidly die away. But win, the country will go ga-ga!
Mexico beat the defending world champions Italy last week in a performance that certainly made the South African technical staff sit up and take notice. Bafana have a tough assignment but if they can keep the winning mentality and confidence of the last weeks then there is much hope for a Friday night of some celebration.
Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.
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