History expects much from SA

2010-08-11 00:00

TONIGHT’S international friendly sees Bafana Bafana return to the ve­nue of the performance regarded by many as their greatest since readmission — the 3-0 victory over Ghana in the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations semi-final.

Bafana went on to win the tournament by beating Tunisia thanks to a brace of goals by Mark Williams.

Though Williams’ goals were by far the most important a South African national side has scored, the build up to the third goal against Ghana lingers in the minds of puritans as one of the national side’s best.

A seemingly aimless passing passage between John “Shoes” Moshoeu, Doctor Khumalo and John Moeti suddenly saw to a split in the Ghanaian defence as Shaun Bartlett galloped unchallenged to score the third goal and set up a date with Tunisia.

As one the stars of that balmy January 31 night, “Shoes”, was later to put it, it was a night of absolutely sublime skill and of an arrogance based on ignorance.

“Shoes”, who scored in that match with an overhead kick, once said the team’s confidence at that tournament had been based on not knowing their opponents’ reputations and treating them like any other team.

How things have changed, not least the names of the venue and of the South African national team currently in dispute and likely to be settled by the courts.

That is why this article will not say that tonight’s match is at the FNB Stadium and will sparingly refer to the SA team as Bafana Bafana.

The Black Stars are reasserting their authority over the African game having gone furthest of the African sides at the World Cup, while currently reigning World under 20 champions.

As it happened with the stadium whose name is proving contentious, South Africa are rebuilding. Coach Pitso Mosimane wants it known that his is a new era based on back-to-basics and pragmatism. To that end, he has chosen a core of the team that did duty in the World Cup just past.

Unlike Clive Barker’s charges in 1996, Mosimane’s team knows everything there is to know about their opponents. Many of the names that came here for the World Cup were familiar prior to the event thanks to satellite television.

John Mensah, (Lyon, France) and Kevin-Prince Boateng (Portsmouth, England) regularly show up in the living rooms of South Africans who have access to SuperSport channels.

Jonathan Mensah played for Free State Stars before signing for Udinese who in turn shipped him off for a loan spell with Granada in La Liga.

Even the most patriotic of pundits would agree that, bar a few exceptions, pound for pound the present Bafana team are not of the same class and hunger as their ‘96 big-brothers.

Steven Pienaar has done Moshoeu’s number 10 shirt justice and the Everton star still has a lot in his tank.

Kwazulu-Natal boys Thanduyise Khuboni and MacBeth Sibaya provide the steel that Linda Buthelezi and Eric Tinkler gave the ‘96 team, but Teko Modise has not exactly performed the Doctor Khumalo role as fans desperately wish he would.

While the 1996 team had enough depth and firepower upfront to leave Williams on the bench, Katlego Mashego is the only proven goal-getter with Bernard Parker showing a lot of promise, though he is not quite there yet. Sthembiso Ngcobo doubts if he is good enough to wear the national jersey.

In defence, Barker could rely on a strong central defence pairing of Mark Fish and Neil Tovey forcing future captain Lucas Radebe and natural centre-half to make do with a position on the left side of defence.

Mosimane must settle for the much maligned Aaron Mokoena and either Morgan Gould or Siyabonga Sangweni to contain the destructive intentions of the likes of Asamoah Gyan, who infamously missed the penalty that would have taken Ghana to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

It’s a big ask to repeat the scoreline and nature of that famous win 14 years ago. It will not be asking too much for players to heed their coach’s call and come to the party.

TV — SABC 1 at 8.30 pm.

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