at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Only on Saturday evening, once all this pre-tournament posturing is out of the way and Bafana have kicked off their African Nations Cup campaign, will we truly be able to tell whether Gordon Igesund’s relentless confidence has any basis in reality.
The Bafana Bafana coach has, however, in the lead-up to the opening clash with Cape Verde, leant so heavily on blind optimism that he increasingly gives the impression of a man residing in La La Land.
Just after the hour mark of a dreadful, goalless warm-up match against Algeria at Orlando Stadium on Saturday night, the crowd began to do the Mexican Wave, a clear sign of boredom, or at best an attempt at motivation in the face of an insipid Bafana display.
A clear sign, that is, to everyone, except the Bafana coach.
“I know that the supporters have started to believe. They were doing the Mexican wave, singing and jumping in their seats. They would not do that if they were not happy. And the players reacted. It was fantastic to get that support tonight, I think they were enjoying themselves … we played fun, exciting football in patches.”
This is plainly nonsense, and if there were exciting patches, they were as small as Bafana’s chances look right now of achieving their dream of matching the class of 1996 by lifting the African Nations Cup.
Instead, this looks every inch the side that have slumped down the world and continental rankings and has not won a match at an African Nations Cup finals in nine years.
It is hard to discern too much from warm-up games, and Igesund had said beforehand he would be hiding his tactics.
But this looks a team bereft of the attacking skill to break teams down. A failure to score against Norway and Algeria has to be a worry.
“I keep saying I am not concerned, so let’s wait until the tournament starts, then ask me the same question,” said Igesund.
“You can’t score every game you play. We played against a very good team tonight and we had chances.”
Algeria are, as Igesund repeated, the No 2 side in Africa at the moment, and did present an extremely organised defence in Orlando.
“Against Norway, their ‘keeper played well and we created situations,” added Igesund. “I know exactly where we are going and exactly what the team is capable of and when the tournament starts, let’s see if we are capable of scoring goals.”
Bafana struggled to create many openings against Algeria, Thulani Serero was unable to impose himself on the game, while Kagiso Dikgacoi was particularly disappointing, his passing radar gone totally haywire. Igesund’s description of his midfielder as “outstanding” was particularly bizarre, though he did admit that the Crystal Palace midfielder was short of match fitness.
Bafana did find some attacking width, once again mostly through Thuso Phala, but their crosses, and especially at set piece delivery, were atrocious.
“Until now we have not done our set pieces,” claimed Igesund. “I did not want us to use any set pieces that we would use for the competition, so we played off the cuff.”
Presumably “off the cuff” did not mean taking corners that go all the way out for a throw-in on the other side of the pitch, however.
Igesund explained that he had no problem with his side not having practised their set pieces in a match situation, with six days to go to the start of the tournament.
“Not at all, the set piece is obviously an element of surprise,” he said. “We will spend two days on it (now).”
Bafana were rather more capable in defence against Algeria, though Igesund’s assertion that they only had “one shot,” was again hyperbole. Algeria were also lacking fluency in attack, but did create openings, using their set pieces far better than Bafana.
Igesund also claimed Bafana should have had a second-half penalty for a handball, suggesting that Lesotho referee William Koto may have been influence by the recent match-fixing allegations.
“Maybe all of a sudden referees are scared to give decisions,” he said.
“They think ‘I don’t want to give this one, or I’ll be accused of something.’ I haven’t seen it on TV, but the players told me it hit him square on the hand.”
Igesund must hope that against Cape Verde, who arrived in the country yesterday afternoon, he is not left blaming the referee.
It might be that a tactical masterplan comes to the fore, and that Bafana reduce these warm-up matches to an irrelevant past.
Igesund certainly talks a good game. By Saturday he needs to produce one.