The man who shot South Africa to their first-ever World Cup appearance, Phil “Chippa” Masinga, says Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund shouldn’t be “scared” to back under-fire striker Katlego Mphela ahead of the African Cup of Nations.
Mphela was on Tuesday night jeered by the almost 35 000-strong Cape Town Stadium crowd after not converting at least one of three clearcut chances in the friendly international against Norway.
He looked way off his best and really rusty after only recently returning to action from a knee injury that has kept him on the sidelines for most of the current campaign.
Two of his efforts were well stopped by the Norwegian goalkeeper, but the Mamelodi Sundowns man did not convert the best chance of the lot when he failed to control a beautiful ball by Lerato Chabangu, prompting the impatient Mother City crowd to call for his immediate substitution.
Mphela, who was also holding his right hamstring early in the match, was taken off at halftime for Tokelo Rantie. But Igesund later confirmed that the change wasn’t injury related.
Mphela has a good international record, averaging slightly less than a goal every second match. But this is not the first time that home crowds have got on the striker’s back.
In the past he has responded in the only manner he knows how – by rattling the back of the net. And Masinga feels he must get some more gametime in the last warm-up match against Algeria on Saturday before the January 19 Afcon opener against Cape Verde.
“Mphela needs to play against Algeria, and I hope Gordon is not scared to play him after the stick he got from the supporters,” said Masinga, who together with former Bafana captain Neil Tovey and former goalkeeper John Tlale are in camp in Stellenbosch with the Castle Lager SuperStars XI, the 16 best players chosen from the Castle League.
“I don’t think anybody can take anything away from Katlego Mphela: he is one of the best out there and his scoring rate is phenomenal. Even (on Tuesday night), he came close to scoring and he was only back for six weeks. He has played only two games for Sundowns, and you can see he is not that sharp.
“But he will get better with the more games he plays. You can’t ignore him if he is fit.”
The former Leeds United and Bari striker added that Bafana are also over-reliant on their strikers for goals, with the rest of the side, especially the midfielders, not contributing enough from elsewhere on the field.
Masinga used the example of “the class of ‘96”, who won the Afcon title on home soil, as an example, with the likes of creators Doctor Khumalo, John “Shoes” Moshoeu and even right back Mark Fish getting into positions to poke the ball into the net.
The current Bafana midfielders seem reluctant to get into the penalty area, and when they do, they seem hesitant to shoot, perhaps because they are worried about further ridicule from the fickle fans if they miss.
“The biggest factor for the class of ‘96 was that the goals came from everywhere on the pitch. You would get goals from strikers, midfielders like Doctor and Shoes and defenders like Mark Fish,” Masinga said. “So the burden on the strikers wasn’t that great, because it was everybody’s responsibility to try and get the ball into the back of the net.”
Tovey, the captain of that victorious side, said Bafana are also “too one-dimensional” at the moment, while attackers kept getting in each other’s way.
“We have to try and play in the space in behind, because that’s how we are going to score goals,” said Tovey, whose No 9 jersey was worn by Nelson Mandela on the day of the 1996 Afcon final. “I thought the movement of the strikers and attacking midfielders was poor. We didn’t get in front of the Norwegian defence at the near post, and they could deal with all the balls coming into the area.
“We are at times too one-dimensional, and we need to take more risks. Give that risky pass; if it gets cut out, then so be it. But players must also make those runs, and not just come towards the ball, where they get in each other’s way.” - Cape Times