Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gordon was right

Bafana Bafana out on penalties
Gordon Igesund got it right, but ultimately Tokelo Rantie’s injury was the defining moment against Mali.
South Africa performed better than expected; certainly, for the first 40 minutes the hosts completely outplayed Mali and should’ve been ahead by more than the solitary goal.

Rantie had the most notable chance, but he was smothered swiftly by the outstanding Mali keeper Soumbeyla Diakite who would turn out to be the night’s hero for his country.

Indecision and rushing cost Bafana Bafana a few more openings. However, such was their dominance South Africa looked well on their way to a first Nations Cup semi-final since 2000 when Rantie gave them a deserved 31st minute lead.

The changes Igesund made had worked beautifully. Siboniso Gaxa came in at right-back for the suspended Anele Ncgongca and his crossing on the overlap – just as at the 2009 Confederations Cup – was a feature early on for Bafana.

Midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane, who hadn’t had the most noteworthy tournament, was inspired on the night after replacing front-man Katlego Mphela in the starting line-up.

Both Gaxa and Letsholonyane were involved in several promising occasions early on. Good pressure, a feature of Bafana’s first half play, produced the first real opportunity with Gaxa finding space to cross for the industrious May Mahlangu. Letsholonyane then slipped a clever through-ball for Rantie but Mali defender Adama Tamboura recovered brilliantly to thwart the danger.

Igesund’s changes meant a change to a 4-2-3-1 formation. As a result Bafana were much more solid as unit with the defence far less exposed. The hosts were able to swarm Mali in midfield then break forward with almost reckless abandon. It was high octane stuff, and it’s how South Africa’s goal came about – a fast break started by Itumeleng Khune’s accurate kick, ending up with Rantie finding the net seconds later.

But just as one missing brick can bring down a wall, so too can one change wreck a football team.

When Rantie went off injured shortly after his goal, coincidentally or not, the game changed. Rantie’s replacement Lehlohonolo Majoro was unable to offer the same threat either through pace down the channels or through competing with Mali’s centre-backs.

South Africa didn’t have a get-out ball and as the game wore on found themselves penned back by Mali.

Other factors played a part as well. Bafana simply got tired. They were unable to maintain their ferocious first half pace and attacking breaks became more sporadic.

Majoro had a rare sight on goal on 51 minutes, but a heavy touch and a lack of strength saw a decent chance slip away.

These, unfortunately, are the margins in international football, and a few minutes later Seydou Keita ghosted in behind a static Bafana defence to head in the equaliser.

There are many positives for South Africa to take forward from the game and the tournament as a whole. The intensity at which they played against Mali was superb. They pressed Mali and were always primed to spring forward in adventurous attack.

Ball movement and retention was also excellent at times, almost unrecognisable from the side that has struggled so much recently. Players such as Mahlangu have put up their hands as top-class performers, while others such as Khune have only reaffirmed their outstanding ability.

There are also lessons. The first surely is there has to be more focus on physicality and fitness. South Africa has the facilities to produce world-class athletes, and its footballers need to join the party.
Too much power...
Bafana's Reneilwe Letsholonyane is brushed aside by Samba Sow
For example, there is a wide disparity between Bafana and the Springboks in terms of world-class physical ability. Footballers aren’t rugby players, but it’s clear in this day and age that they are athletes.

South Africa needs physically fit players such as Mahlangu and Rantie. Mahlangu, based in Sweden, was the only Bafana player who was able to maintain his level of performance throughout the game. In South Africa’s Premiership not enough emphasis is put on physicality, hence the presence of one or two overweight players.

This has to change.

In international football, and more especially Africa, fitness counts for a lot.

It’s difficult to see Mali going on and winning Nations Cup. They are a team of well-managed parts, doing just enough to stifle the opponent. However, when it comes to forcing the issue, which it will inevitably come down to at some, stage it is difficult to see Mali thriving.

But they are establishing themselves. Two consecutive Nations Cup semi-final appearances and a fourth since 2002 is no mean feat. Mali are definitely an African power.

South Africa can be too, but consistent focus on fundamentals, such as physical fitness, is paramount.

No comments:

Post a Comment