Bafana traded heavily on a Tau talisman role, but Al Ahly’s signing was off kilter
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CAPE TOWN – Bafana Bafana relied heavily on Percy Tau playing a talisman role to help the fresh-faced untried combination start their Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifying against Zimbabwe on a winning note, but the Al Ahly signing was off kilter on the day.
The Belgium-born Hugo Broos was debuting as South Africa's national team coach in Friday's Group G opener at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, where the match ended in a goalless stalemate. Broos had looked to Tau to bring the team of greenhorns together to help them function at a highly competitive level against a depleted Zimbabwe outfit that appeared to be there for the taking.
Zimbabwe were without their England-based stars like midfielder Marvellous Nakamba (Aston Villa), Tendai Darikwa (Wigan Athletic) and Jordan Zemura (Bournemouth), but had the advantage of 10 SA-based players in their matchday squad. Their collective knowledge of the opposition would have contributed handsomely to the game intelligence devised by their Croatian coach Zdravko Logarušic.
Despite Zimbabwe's pre-match setbacks, which outweighed those suffered by Bafana Bafana, the host nation were still favourites to win the game. Broos had shorn the national squad of several experienced campaigners and opted for a youthful squad, with the eye on building for the future.
Just one more cameo role from Tau, who recently signed for Egyptian giants Al Ahly, would have done the trick, and Bafana Bafana would have been off to a flier.
There were some encouraging signs. However, with Tau, who had scored four times in Bafana Bafana’s recent failed Africa Cup of Nations campaign, a pale shadow of his former self, the team had to settle for a draw.
Late in the game, Tau, usually the master of efficiency in the midfield, was replaced by SuperSport United midfielder Sipho Mbule.
"Percy, I think you saw in the game is not for the moment in his best shape. This is normal [because of a lack of game time],” said Broos, who recently declared that he was pleased with the move to Egypt after a decided lack of game time at his previous club Brighton and Hove Albion,
"You see that he missed the tempo of the game. So, this is something also for him in the weeks ahead to work on. He stays a good player, and that is why he stayed so long on the pitch.
"I hope that for the next games in October and November, that we will have a Percy Tau much better than at the moment.”
Broos was pleased with the way the defence held out against an attack that included the dangerous Khama Billiat. He led the home side's and came within a whisker of scoring but for the heroics of Bafana Bafana captain Ronwen Williams who otherwise was largely untroubled by an insipid Zimbabwean team.
Teboho Mokoena showed some fine touches as a counter-attacking midfielder. He produced the shot of the match but was denied by Zimbabwe goalkeeper Talbert Shumba fisted the ball away.
He worked tirelessly and was effective in front of the four-man defence. He showed a penchant for joining the attack when Bafana Bafana attempted to press high.
Mothobi Mvala, a seasoned midfielder, was deployed in an unfamiliar role at left-back, but Broos was nevertheless pleased with his efforts. He seemed to run of steam towards the end.
"I thought [Teboho] Mokoena and [Mothobi] Mvala played very well," said Broos afterwards. "Mokoena played a very good game, as did Mvala in his role. As I said, the defence was okay today."
Substitute Bongokuhle Hlongwane was impressive when he joined the fray in the second half. Based on this display, Hlongwane could force his way into the starting line-up for Monday's game against Ghana.
He was on the verge of scoring after shaking off his marker and seemed to pull the Zimbabwean defence out of shape on at least two occasions with his runs in the striking zone.
He replaced Gift Links, who was out of sorts.
"Gift Links was not really in the game in the first half," said Broos. "It was the reason we changed him at halftime and like Percy [Tau) you can see that at the moment, he is not in the best shape."