EAST LONDON – What the new Bafana Bafana coach won’t have to worry about is talent – but he’s going to have to work his socks off to get them playing like a team.
They were all over the show here on Tuesday night in a 0-0 draw with Angola in front of a vibrant crowd that ended up craving for a goal more than they were enjoying the fancy footwork in the second half.
Following the much-talked about 3-1 win over Guinea-Bissau in Durban three days earlier, caretaker coach Owen da Gama made nine changes from the team that defeated the West Africans so convincingly that South Africans got carried away, claiming it was a new era with the departure of head coach Shakes Mashaba in December.
But this goalless draw here snapped everyone back into reality. There is no new era just yet, just plenty of potential and a team that can bully their continental counterparts with a clear structure and style of play.
Da Gama has led the way. Assuming that the 25-man squad called up for these two friendly matches against Guinea-Bissau in Durban and Angola at this venue were not just a list of names handed to him by the Safa hierarchy, he’s probably made the yet-unnamed coach’s job a lot easier.
Nevertheless, Angola were the ones that proved value for money, especially in the first half. Youngsters Phakamani Mahlambi and Luther Singh made their debuts and struggled.
A much more mature Diamond Thopola replaced Ramahlwe Mphahlele at right back to also make his first appearance for Bafana, and Thopola was taken off at halftime after he was made to look average by winger Manuel Afonso, who was full of running and probably the visitors’ best player.
The fickle fans will argue that Da Gama fielded a weak team that looked disjointed in midfield and lacked impetus upfront, relying on the defence to keep them from trailing.
But what are friendly matches for?
This was, after all, some sort of dress rehearsal ahead of the crucial 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Nigeria away in June, and what could prove to be decisive back-to-back 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Cape Verde later in August and September.
But Da Gama won’t be there… not as the head coach anyway.
Angola are hardly world-beaters themselves – they had only registered a single victory in 15 matches and are ranked 144th by Fifa – but they proved a tough mental challenge for debutants Mahlambi, Singh and Thopola.
They continued to hold on even after Da Gama had made several changes when bringing on the tried and tested in Mphahlele, Keagan Dolly, Themba Zwane, Kermit Erasmus and Thulani Serero.
That is when Bafana had their first shot on target, one that went comfortably into the hands of goalkeeper Adilson Da Cruz. The rest were wayward.
The capacity crowd, who hadn’t seen the national team at the Buffalo City Stadium since 2003, deserved a goal.
But what is slightly more significant is that Bafana got a wake-up call and will not be blowing their own horn too quickly after the 3-1 win over Guinea-Bissau before trips to Nigeria and Cape Verde.