Angola will be a lot tougher

2013-01-21 00:00

THE highlights reel for Saturday’s opening day of Afcon 2013 would have been pretty easy for the crew in the broadcast studios to piece together.

Bafana’s boring draw with tournament debutants Cape Verde, in which there were just a couple of chances to speak of, was followed by another stalemate when Angola failed to break down an average Moroccan outfit. If the tournament was ever going to grab the footballing world’s attention, then Saturday was the worst possible start.

But as average as Bafana were on attack, one cannot fault their drive and determination.

Captain Bongani Khumalo was distraught at the post-match press conference, as was his coach Gordon Igesund, and this in itself is one plus that can be taken from the match. At least we know that winning means as much to them as it does to the fans.

Igesund correctly observed that his side’s performance was one marked by nerves, but he cannot hide from the fact that it is his responsibility to ensure that his players run on to the field with the right mindset.

Bafana tried to rush their attacks and would have benefited from more time on the ball. There was not one period of play where the hosts were in complete control, and the ball was given away as quickly as it was won on far too many occasions. As a result, a Cape Verde side that were elated with a point in their first-ever Afcon encounter always felt that they were in the game and that they were in the same league as their opponents.

They were able to knock the ball around and manufactured the best chance of the game. Striker Luis Soares’s miss in the 15th minute, when he had been put through one-on-one with Bafana shot-stopper Itumeleng Khune, would have made a huge difference to the rest of the encounter. If his shot had gone in and Bafana had lost, it would have brought the curtain down on their campaign.

As it stands, Group A is still wide open with all four teams on a point each with no goals scored.

Wednesday’s clash with Angola in Durban was regarded by many before the start of the tournament to be Bafana’s toughest in Group A. And if Bafana were nervous on Saturday, one can only imagine what they will be feeling when defeat would more than likely spell the end of their campaign.

Igesund will surely leave no stone unturned in his attempt to score goals. Kagisho Dikgacoi, removed at half-time on Saturday, is surely too lethargic to play in the pivotal holding midfield role for a side that need goals desperately. Reneilwe Letsholonyane is a far more logical choice. His energy, creativity and willingness to be on the ball at all times mean that he gives those around him an option more often than not.

Lerato Chabangu, Oupa Manyisa and Dean Furman could all come into contention if Dikgacoi is sidelined.

It is unfortunate that Thulani Serero is not fit to play 90 minutes, as Igesund would surely call on his most promising attacking threat in such a time of crisis.

Then there is Katlego Mphela and how Igesund chooses to use him. The Mamelodi Sundowns man was a substitute on Saturday and had little time to make an impact, but his goal-scoring record of 23 in 47 internationals is impressive and cannot be ignored. Mphela sat out for Lehlohonolo Majoro, who was probably Bafana’s best player on the night — ironic considering that he is a striker and that Bafana barely threatened the Cape Verde goal.

Majoro’s energy was boundless and he made some very intelligent runs in the process while hounding the opposition defence repeatedly. His performance has surely earned him another start on Wednesday, and if Mphela is to return to Bafana’s starting line-up, it might be at the expense of Bernard Parker.

There needs to be a calming influence in theBafana side on Wednesday night, somebody who is comfortable on the ball and gives off a “relax and just play the way you know you can” vibe.

A relaxed Bafana would be a lot more likely to score. But the thing about pressure is that it builds with time. Maybe once that first goal comes, the whole squad will breathe a sigh of relief and be able to play with a bit more freedom.

But judging by what we saw on Saturday night, that goal could still be some time away — time that Bafana don’t have.

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