Santana must get it right

2009-06-17 00:00

PLEASE, oh please, let this not be another disappointment at an international tournament for Bafana Bafana.

Following their disappointing 0-0 draw in the opening match against Iraq, the national team play New Zealand in their second game of the 2009 Confederations Cup at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg tonight and simply have to win to rescue their semi-final hopes.

A draw would leave the South Africans needing a win against world No.1 Spain in their final Group A game at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Sunday to reach the semis. An under-pressure Bafana going into their game against the majestic Spaniards, who opened their campaign with a 5-0 demolition of New Zealand, is not an appetising thought.

Of course, had the back of Bernard Parker’s legs not got in the way of Kagisho Dikgacoi’s goal-bound header in the 86th minute against Iraq, then South Africa would not be in as precarious a position. And the critics would be commenting that while it was not the best performance, at least Bafana had done the job.

That’s football, though, and now the hosts are under even more pressure, a fact that has not escaped the plucky Kiwis. New Zealand may have been made to look ordinary against a Fernando Torres-inspired Spain, but could be more dangerous challengers to South Africa’s semi-final aspirations than Iraq.

“They [Bafana] will be desperate to win after an unexpected draw against Iraq,” New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert told Kickoff.com. “The longer the game goes at 0-0, the more the pressure builds.

“I think you saw that the other night when they changed shape and went with three at the back, pushed full-backs forward, with the crowd wanting Steven Pienaar on the pitch. Against New Zealand that pressure will create mayhem for them.”

New Zealand showed in their 4-3 warm-up defeat against Italy that they are a well-organised side who are dangerous at set pieces with two good strikers in Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen.

The Kiwis, though, do not have the skill and technical ability of SA, and this surely is the strength Bafana have to play to if they are to win.

His fight and stubbornness are all very well, but Bafana coach Joel Santana, if not publicly, then at least privately, has to admit he got his tactics wrong against Iraq with a defensive gameplan that left Teko Modise isolated as the lone creative player in midfield until far too late in the game.

Pienaar is back to full fitness and it would seem everything rests on Santana utilising the Everton midfielder in creative tandem with Modise, in which case Bafana should have too much skill in midfield for New Zealand to cope with.

A big positive for the South Africans on Sunday was the form of Macbeth Sibaya in defensive midfield, and the dynamic midfielder is now possibly the national team’s best player. His performance will be crucial, while Bafana will ask for more from strikers Parker, Terror Fanteni and Katlego Mashego.

On Sunday night, a huge crowd roared Bafana on in the opener, and big attendances are expected in the matches against New Zealand and Spain . The South African public realise the importance of this Confed Cup for Bafana’s World Cup hopes and have turned out in force to back the team.

But one feels this could be last- chance saloon for Bafana, and that if they break the hearts of their long-suffering fans again, then many may turn their backs on the national team … who knows for how long.

It’s a pressure situation for Bafana, but that will only be greater in 2010. That’s why their next two matches are make or break.

Kick-off: 8.30 pm – live on SABC1 and SuperSport 3.

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