CAPE TOWN – As always in South African football, when it matters, when the pressure is on, Bafana Bafana disappoint.
So, instead of ensuring the route to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations tournament is an easy one, the SA national football team chose the difficult path after a frustrating and rather depressing goalless draw with the Seychelles on Tuesday.
These same opponents were comfortably dispatched 6-0 in Johannesburg at the weekend - and, yet, a few days later, Bafana looked palpably clueless in finding the net. Again it was the same old inability to score goals that was their undoing; again, especially in the first half, they lacked energy and intensity in how they went about their business; again, and this has been a constant refrain with Bafana, they wore an air of complacency like a cheap cologne.
The movement off the ball was lacking and too few players were prepared to find space and go the extra mile for the team.
But, having said that, let’s not forget the opposition. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the SA football fraternity’s dismissive attitude towards an opponent is an issue.
Yes, the Seychelles are not in Bafana’s class, but no football team walks onto the pitch with the intention of losing; they will fight, they will be committed and determined, and they will do their utmost to do their country proud.
This was exactly the approach of the Indian Ocean Islanders on Tuesday. After the humiliation of the 6-0 drubbing against Bafana at the weekend, they were always going to be more competitive at home. More than that, they had heeded the lessons of the heavy defeat and rectified their problem areas.
First up, they were far more accustomed to the conditions on the artificial turf and they used it to their advantage. Then, they made sure that they got a lot tighter, pressed their opponents and, as a result, Bafana never had the space to manoeuvre, as they did in Johannesburg.
The Seychelles’ game plan was to play the ball longer to try to get in behind the Bafana defence, and it worked as they had a few opportunities on the counter. Also, the Seychelles were a lot more physical in their approach and, as we have seen before, Bafana are never comfortable when the opposition gets in their faces.
The conditions certainly played a role, which is why Bafana were more threatening in the second half.
In the first half they were all over the place, unable to cope with the surface. The pitch at the Stade Linite in Victoria proved troublesome - and it takes a while to adjust.
Make no mistake, metaphorically speaking, it does level the playing fields. The bounce was awkward, it was difficult to play a passing game, tough to control the pace of the pass, and even tougher trying to control the ball.
For a footballer, balance is crucial, and it takes the body a while to adapt when the underfoot conditions are alien. Having said that, though, and based on the numerous scoring chances Bafana had in the second half, they should still have been able to cruise beyond the Seychelles. Alas, they didn’t, and while qualification for Afcon 2019 is not in jeopardy as yet, the goalless result has made the journey a bit more precarious.
There was much enthusiasm that Bafana had embarked on a new dawn with the strike partnership of Percy Tau and Lebo Mothiba. But their efforts at goal proved to be just as innocuous on the day.
Tau worked his socks off and was always at the forefront of Bafana’s offensive moves, while Mothiba missed an absolute sitter in front of goal. But, despite this, I am still of the opinion that Tau and Mothiba are the future for Bafana.
They certainly can’t be judged on that 90-minute goalless debacle against the Seychelles; they are far better than that. And, in time to come, in other Bafana games, the duo will be the axis around which Bafana operate.
And let’s please address the elephant in the room: dead-ball situations. For an international team, Bafana’s delivery of corners and free kicks was simply diabolical. Amateurish, to say the least. Okay, scrap that - in fact, it was embarrassing.
This is a national team, for goodness sake. As a former professional, I can assure you that every single coach I had prioritised set-pieces because it’s a quick and easy route to a goal. It’s something good coaches spend a lot of time on at training sessions.
To be brutally honest, Bafana’s performance in this regard points quite a few fingers of blame in the direction of coach Stuart Baxter.