Johannesburg - Hugo Broos’ appointment as the new Bafana Bafana coach was met with bemusement in May.
This was perhaps due to the fact that many a discerning fan believed that the team needed someone who would churn out the results immediately.
Based on his coaching record, Broos didn’t fit this criteria. In a career that has spanned more than two decades, the Belgian-born coach has been hell-bent on giving youngsters a chance - establishing new dawns.
His exploits have worked before. He unearthed the talents of Manchester City and Belgium legend Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht.
But perhaps the best moment of his career was winning the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations with Cameroon.
The Indomitable Lions went through a transformation phase under Broos prior to that tournament, with the seniors – such as captain Samuel Eto’o – dropped from the squad for some fresh and exciting gems, such as Christian Bassogog.
But many didn’t think Bafana as a team had the luxury to rebuild, given the fact that they had recently failed to qualify for the 2022 Afcon in Cameroon, while the last time they qualified for the World Cup was as hosts in 2010.
However, judging from Broos’ stint as Bafana coach so far, he is somehow proving that he might just be the man they needed after all. He doesn’t take any prisoners: be it the players or clubs in SA football.
His recent frustration with Goodman Mosele, who pulled a no-show, and Mamelodi Sundowns’ decision to organise a Covid-19 vaccine for Thabiso Kutumela, who was in camp for two days ahead of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Ethiopia, spoke volumes.
He summarised the incidents by saying that some people in SA were out to sabotage him.
Although there may have been unavoidable developments related to the incidents, maybe he is right: the national team deserves to be backed at all times.
After all, Broos has probably exceeded expectations since he took over the reins, showing that the team could actually win matches and qualify for major tournaments – despite being in a rebuilding phase following their recent misfortunes.
Bafana are top of the standings in Group G in the World Cup qualifiers. They have four points after two matches.
While there are still four matches left, there has been an overwhelming sense of belief in camp.
“It’s been amazing. The camaraderie has been high. Although there’s been some bad things happening behind the scenes, with some players not coming or being late, that hasn’t dampened our mood,” captain Ronwen Williams said this week.
In the qualifiers, Bafana drew with Zimbabwe away before pulling off a famous win over Ghana at home – three days later.
But perhaps their character will be tested against Ethiopia over two matches, which take place tomorrow in Bahir Dar (3pm kickoff) and Tuesday at FNB Stadium.
Ethiopia are level on three points with Ghana. But they’ve been Bafana’s bogey team in the past, denying them a ticket to the 2014 World Cup after they earned four points in the group stage, thanks to a draw away and a victory at home.
But a new-look Bafana will know that their fortunes are in their hands, as six points from the back-to-back matches will drag them closer to qualifying for the final round – as only the top five African teams will go to Qatar.
Bafana may be yet to become a fully-fledged team as this has only been their second camp under Broos’ guidance, but they can take some positives from their last two matches after Williams kept two clean sheets – away and at home.
Williams knows the importance of winning the two matches against Ethiopia. But the responsibility of keeping a clean sheet doesn’t solely depend on him, but rather on the team as a collective.
Just like Bafana, Ethiopia are stubborn defensively. They are yet to concede at home, while they’ve scored a single goal – during their win over Zimbabwe. That’s why the South Africans will need to work hard to breach their defence if they are to bag a win.
Breaking down an opponent starts from defence and ends with attack. Broos, therefore, has to use specialist players for each and every position.
That he opted to use right back Nyiko Mobbie as a left back before, could be futile going forward.
The wingbacks of nowadays play an influential role in attack, be it in build-up play or the supply of crosses. But Bafana’s spine needs to be solid.
Broos should have a holding midfielder – such as Mothobi Mvala – who’ll clean up for the defenders.
Teboho Mokoena and Ethan Brooks were two of the stand-out players for Bafana against Ghana, but they have to be more assertive by taking shots from distance as well.
But the creation of scoring opportunities cannot only be thrown at them. Whichever players are given the responsibility to lead the line should deliver.
The idea of starting with Tshegofatso Mabasa and Evidence Makgopa upfront could work. These are two different players, but they both have a knack of scoring.
Mabasa is stocky and can bulldoze his way through Ethiopia’s defence or hold up play for his teammates. He is good in the air and quick with his feet.
Makgopa, meanwhile, is silky, with his touches and his pace is able to tire defenders.