So Bafana Bafana played their first official match since the axing of Ephraim Mashaba on Saturday, albeit a friendly against Guinea-Bissau who are sitting in 80th position on the FIFA ranking. The team was under the mentor-ship of Owen Da Gama who took the reigns as interim coach, while our esteemed SAFA executive deliberate on their appointment of the next coach. By all accounts the new coach might very well be the first foreign appointment since Carlos Alberto Gomes Parreira finished his contract after delivering the worst FIFA World Cup performance by a host country in the winter of 2010.
The match against Guinea-Bissau ended in a 3-1 victory at Moses Mabida stadium in Durban. The second victory in a row since that fateful Senegal game in Polokwane when a frustrated Ephraim Mashaba blew his gasket on national television. We shouldn’t re-visit that, there really is no need to. It is now in the past.
However it should be mentioned that the Ghanaian referee who handled those match proceedings has since been banned for life by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee. Joseph Odartei Lamptey was found guilty of unlawfully influencing match results. Bafana Bafana won the World Cup qualifier match by two goals to one. We still await further information concerning that match, which FIFA promised to release – “once the decision becomes final and binding”.
So knowing all of this, what can we read into the senior national team’s performance on Saturday?
Other than the fact the team selection was a PR exercise topped with a victorious cherry. I say PR because the selection included every player which was the subject of debate which catalysed Mashaba’s axing.
Note to self: One wonders how many people other than ODG had a say in the selection of the squad.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, though Bafana Bafana have won two matches in a row, they are still struggling to score. What with three goals from the penalty spot in two matches? In fact, except for the return fixture against Angola in November 2015, South Africa has somehow managed to be awarded a penalty in every match they’ve won since the first leg of the same fixture. Even with the introduction of the much lamented overseas based players – Mokotjo and Erasmus in particular. The ability to score in open play remains as rare as an Itumeleng Khune clean sheet.
Which brings me to my summarised ANALYSIS of the Guinea-Bissau game on Saturday.
Guinea-Bissau managed to get a shot at goal on every 6 min and 25 sec of the game. Their FIFA ranking showed when they were only able to get 36% of their chances on target. From which they were able to get one goal. If you compare these numbers to any of the matches by countries ranking in the top five (who should be the benchmark), played over the weekend. The opposition only managed to penetrate every 11-13 min of the game.
These numbers speak to a leakages in defence. If you consider that in Jali, Furman, Mathoho, Hlatshwayo and Khune managing the central defensive unit, you have a pack which has been working together since the AFCON qualifiers in 2014 and before. Not only that. This pack includes three club captains plus Ramahlo Mphahlele who is also not a stranger to leadership. While Tebogo Langerman, who as a Super Cup champion, just happens to be the best left back on the continent. There isn’t a logical explanation for the breakages in structure, concentration, communication and uncoordinated defensive responses. We may have not conceded many goals but if I was ODG, I would certainly be very concerned with our ability to respond to better more clinical attacking outfits.
In attack, let’s get one thing straight. If there is one thing we do well is consolidation. At any given time in history, we have always been well endowed with talent in that department. So let’s not waist time talking about that. The biggest concern remains the final third.
Mokotjo, Erasmus and Serero’s combination plays on the D-line were beautiful. But they were not at all productive. We averaged one shot at goal every 7 min 55s, and 58% of those shots were on target. Now 58% is very high. In fact if you compare us to the top 5 ranking FIFA countries, they averaged 33% – 40% of their shots on target. But on closer inspection, you will realise that since we had two goals from the penalty spot, it means we actually only had one shot on target every 22 min 30 sec in open play.
Now let’s talk about the goal.
It was a long ball from Khune to Manyama, who drew the wing-back out the Guinea-Bissau’s defensive structure with a shot pass to Dolly. Dolly’s long first time pass to the running third man, allowed penetration with the receiving player Tau carving out acres of space to punish the opposition. Tau received the ball in an open space which Manyama created, therefore he had no need to fight people off the ball.
Long, short, long and the running third man. That’s is South African football.
Like I said combination play looks beautiful. But is it productive? I am not convinced. The reason being people receive the ball in congested areas, and so we need to fight people off the ball. When our small physical frame isn’t helping. Which is why for much on the first 60 min Mokotjo, Erasmus and Serero spent so much time on the ground, they looked like they lost an earring. They were being out-muscled.
I would choose a player with passing attributes of a Mabunda or a Kekana over one like Mokotjo any day. Because Kekana’s passing range allows us to get the ball out of congested areas of the pitch, so speedy skilful players like Tau, Dolly, Serero and Erasmus can receive the ball in acres of space and apply their skill to eliminated defenders.
But if you play a short passers of the ball in that role, then you are forcing the rest of the attacking unit to tuck-in and facilitate the combination play. It looks beautiful when it works, I won’t lie. But is it really productive? One shot at goal on target in open play every 22 min 30s, should tell you that it isn’t. In fact do yourself a favour and watch the game again and count how many times we lost possession in that area vs. any other part of the pitch. You will be astounded.
So as I conclude, remember this.
The balance between tactical decision making and public relations remains the biggest part of a Bafana Bafana coach’s job. Saturday was a quintessential example of what happens when PR becomes the priority over tactics. Everybody is happy, but we have a national team that is not playing to its strengths. Can you think of anything more sad?
The tempest prognosticator
Themba A Dikgale