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Long balls killed Bafana’s gameplan

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Siyabonga Sangweni (centre) can't be sending up long passes and hoping it lands on somebody's head, says the writer.

Johannesburg – As anti-climaxes go, this was probably up there with the worst. Bafana Bafana had done it before, in the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup, when they could only return a 0-0 draw with Iraq in the opening match to send the entire country into despair.

But this was more terrible. For starters, persistent rain had fallen throughout Saturday and, some South Africans would understandably have toyed with the idea of staying under roof in their own homes rather than go to the National Stadium to watch their beloved Bafana in the Africa Cup of Nations opener.

Yet they made the trip to Nasrec in their droves, inconvenienced by the atrocious logistics around the stadium, where traffic queues were nightmarish and stewards deployed to assist barely knew what they had to do.

All those hassles seemed negligible, however, when compared to the utterly poor display Bafana fans had to endure on Saturday, as Gordon Igesund’s team huffed and puffed to a draw against Cape Verde.

The warning signs that our lot could produce a performance as dreadful as this had been there. We had seen them lose to a youthful Norway two weeks ago. We saw them flatter to deceive in the friendly against Algeria. But somehow, we believed they could, for once, show some guts. Our belief, in the main, was fuelled by Igesund, the national coach who should probably double up as the team’s spokesperson (already, he is, for he fields himself to speak to the media on a daily basis).

“The team will be ready,” Igesund had said in the build up to Saturday’s game. Languid performances in the previous clashes, our coach insisted, were the result of him not showing all his cards. He was planning to “surprise” the opposition.

As it turned out, Igesund did surprise many of us with his selections. For some time he had indicated he would start with Dean Furman and Kagisho Dikgacoi as his central midfield partnership. On Saturday, he dropped Furman for Reneilwe Letsholonyane, which was not a bad decision as Yeye was one of the few Bafana players who were not below average.

Igesund also chose to hand Lehlohonolo Majoro a start up front, perhaps thinking his outstanding partnership with Bernard Parker at Kaizer Chiefs could be the answer at Bafana level. It wasn’t to be, however, as both strikers hardly had a sniff against Cape Verde’s excellent defenders. But the biggest surprise was the absence of Thulani Serero from the Bafana XI. Having hailed him as our equivalent of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, Igesund did not bring Serero on before an hour into the match.

The coach reasoned that the Ajax Amsterdam man may not have been fully fit (which, if true, would be scandalous to have him in camp), but Serero, asked about this, merely shrugged and said: “I don’t know about that.”

Serero not knowing about having supposedly told the coach that he was not ready to start perhaps exposes the fact that even behind closed doors Bafana are as confused as we are.

Igesund has done a lot of flip-flopping on many of his decisions. But time has run out now. Bafana face Angola on Wednesday and there can’t be any more experimentation and indecision.

Bafana have to win to stand a chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals. To win, they will have to score. To score they will have to play way better than they did on Saturday. To play better, Igesund will have to alter his tactics and spend the next day or two telling his players, in particular Siyabonga Sangweni, to stop hoofing the ball forward and hoping it lands on a lone teammate’s head.

Solace could be drawn from the fact that Angola and Morocco also played to a draw on Saturday, but that both sides are expected to beat Cape Verde could mean Bafana have a mountain to climb if they fail to win on Wednesday. Surely, Bafana fans won’t go into that game with expectations as high as this past weekend. It would be foolish. And South Africans are no fools. That’s why, in the end, they booed this pathetic performance. – The Star


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