Is Santana’s reign about to come to a frosty end?

2009-10-13 00:00

IS Joel Santana’s reign about to come to a frosty ending after Bafana Bafana take on Iceland in an international friendly in Reykjavik tonight?

Most press reports would have it that the beleaguered Brazilian is about to be put on ice and shipped back home like the limp fish they claim he has been in his 18-month tenure as coach of the 2010 World Cup hosts.

Santana’s job was not made any easier by some of the initial criticism he received as he came into a largely hostile environment following the bombshell departure of Carlos Alberto Parreira in April last year.

Certainly, labelling Santana the first Bafana coach to fail to qualify for an African Nations Cup is highly unfair when South Africa suffered this ignominy in June last year.

He had one week to prepare for his first qualifier away to Nigeria, his first match in charge of Bafana, then three more games within three weeks. This situation was surely far more to blame than the coach was.

And it even seemed the Brazilian might just be making some breakthroughs when Bafana outperformed themselves at the Confederations Cup to almost match Brazil and then Spain in a heroic semi-final and third/fourth-placed defeats.

But what has transpired since, with five more losses in the next six friendly internationals, and Bafana seemingly floundering with just 240 days to the World Cup, has sent alarm bells ringing.

A new ruling clique at the SA Football Association is apparently of a belief that at the very least a review of matters, and at most a change of coach, is sorely needed, and with 2010 looming it will have to come now.

Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Norway in Oslo on the face of it might be no disgraceful result.

But Santana’s critics have it that the coach’s motivation is now — and always has been to some extent, unless put under pressure — to play safety-first football with a personal agenda to protect his job.

Bafana’s lacklustre display and inability or lack of willingness to attack seem to reflect this theory — an approach that clearly would serve little purpose towards building for 2010.

Santana, too, continued to make excuses, blaming the length of the grass on a pitch that seemed to have little adverse affect on the 43rd-ranked Norwegians. This quality, along with a defensive attitude in the face of criticism, such as when the Brazilian refused to admit he had got his tactics wrong in Bafana’s Confed Cup opener against Iraq, is sure not to have endeared him any more to his masters.

The report of Mwelo Nonkonyana, the head of delegation on this Bafana trip, is sure not to be overly complementary.

Nonkonyana hauled the SA technical staff into a two-and-a-half hour meeting after Saturday’s defeat.

Yesterday the Safa vice-president told Business Day: “Something needs to be done urgently. This poor run of results is of huge concern to us [Safa] and we have to start winning, starting tomorrow night [tonight, against Iceland].”

Santana has vowed to come out fighting against Iceland. It is a promise he has made before when, under heavy criticism for a defensive approach in the opening round of the Confed, South Africa successfully attacked Brazil and Spain in the knockout stages.

However, even if the 73rd-ranked South Africans do manage a convincing victory over their 96th-ranked hosts tonight, one suspects this might have been one delayed reaction too many from Santana, and it still might not be enough to save his job.

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