South Africa and Nigeria are the two supposed powerhouses of Group E in the 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Yet it is unfancied Libya who top the log after two rounds… due to a better goal difference (+4) compared to Bafana Bafana (+2) following the disappointing goalless draw at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday.
Having beaten Nigeria away in the first round (last year June, mind you), a win over Libya on home soil would’ve put Stuart Baxter’s team on six points and well on their way to reaching Cameroon 2019.
But the way Baxter spoke before and after the match, as well as the team set-up, suggests that he paid the Libyans way too much respect.
It’s all good and well having Keagan Dolly and debutant Vincent Pule on the wings to fire in the crosses, but who exactly was going to head those into the net?
Certainly not Percy Tau, who stands just 1.75m tall.
How was he supposed to tower above central defender Ahmed Eltrbi, who is 8cm taller at 1.83m?
The bigger, physically stronger Bradley Grobler was the man needed in the air and the box to compete for those inviting crosses, with Tau playing off him to finish off the knockdowns.
But Baxter’s conservative 4-5-1 formation saw Bafana pack the midfield, with Tau all on his own upfront.
Grobler was belatedly introduced at the start of the second half, with Pule making way. The SuperSport United man was in top form too, having sent Kaizer Chiefs packing in the MTN8 semi-finals with three goals in the two legs.
But unfortunately for the 30-year-old, nothing changed in the formation, as Tau just replaced Pule out wide, leaving Grobler to fight a lone battle upfront.
Bafana were at home and needed to go for goals.
Sifiso Hlanti and Dolly in particular produced a number of dangerous deliveries into the area, but South Africa didn’t have enough bodies in the box as Sibusiso Vilakazi was also positioned deeper than usual in midfield.
It didn’t help that defensive midfielder Dean Furman – who enjoyed a busy game – was partnered by a similar in Kamohelo Mokotjo, who hardly pushed forward.
Grobler had one difficult header with less than five minutes to go, from the edge of the box, and it went over the bar.
Let’s hope Baxter heeds the lesson going forward, as now Nigeria are back in the mix for top spot in the group.
The next set of matches is next month, with Bafana facing Seychelles at home on October 10 and away on October 13.@ashfakmohamed