Chill South Africans cos every little thing’s gonna be alright

2010-03-06 00:00

I WAS asked by a friend on e-mail what I make of Bafana Bafana at present, following Wednesday night’s 1-1 friendly draw against Namibia in Durban. I’m going to cut and paste my reply into this comment piece. I know it’s not standard practice for journalists to quote themselves but, trust me, I’m tired and looking for lazy options. This past week has seen four trips to Durban in three days, an unexciting 100 days banquet, three press conferences, the Bafana game, a night crashing in the City Press photographer’s Elangeni hotel room, another at the City Lodge and a third on a friend’s couch, and the obligatory drinks with journos when they’re in town for a big event. All this while managing as if by magic to be in Durban and Pietermaritzburg at the same time to bring out these sports pages for the all-important reader.

So at the risk of putting myself in the class of a journalist who once quoted himself in a story he wrote about himself when he was kicked off the Bafana team bus by Philippe Troussier in Argentina ahead of the 1998 World Cup, this was my email response.

“The Namibia result means nothing. We should have won, ja, but not winning means nothing. We were experimenting and trying new players. And encouragingly a new player put his hand up in Tlou Segolela, while Bryce Moon made a nice comeback (he could even make the starting line-up) and Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Daine Klate also impressed as subs (against a small team admittedly).

“I think we’re going to surprise at the World Cup. I think Mexico are a very well-coached, well-organised team under Javier Aguirre, Uruguay have great strikers in Forlan and Suarez, and France are obviously a top 10 side. But I think we’re making a late charge under Parreira and that’s what makes us dangerous — because the coaches of those teams have looked at our results over the last four years and written us off.

“Encouragingly, France are in a mess. Henry was booed the whole game on Wednesday, and the French public want Domenech out. Really, with the build-up we’ve had, compared to our opponents, we shouldn’t do well. But the atmosphere in this country in 2010’s going to be massive (something like 1994 and Mandela’s release) and I wouldn’t want to be playing the host nation.”

A bit optimistic. Perhaps. Or perhaps not? I think my essential message is, everyone take a happy pill. Chill. It’s going to be alright. We drew with Namibia. It happens.

Even with a disappointing result and a not unsurprisingly flat performance from Bafana, there were some positives. Pacy Bloemfontein Celtic forward Segolela looked a great find, and booked himself a place in the squad for Carlos Parreira’s Brazil camp. Moon’s return is welcome and the Greece-based defender presents South Africa with an option at right-back who could really push Siboniso Gaxa for his place. Moon is perhaps not quite as solid defensively as Gaxa, but he’s a lot faster and could add a whole new attacking dimension at the World Cup.

Reneilwe Letsholonyane impressed off the bench with his positive passing and dynamic, physical play harassing the Namibian midfield. Bevan Fransman also returned to the team after a long absence and looked accomplished in defence. These are what South Africans should be concentrating on about a friendly where two of the back four (Fransman and Bradley Carnell) had not played for Bafana for over a year, a third (Anele Ngcongca) was playing just his third international and a fourth off the bench (Moon) was also playing his first game back.

As Bafana assistant coach Pitso Mosimane said the following day: “When you experiment you compromise on results.” The purpose of the Namibia game, and the 6-2 win over Swaziland and 3-0 defeat of Zimbabwe, was to give a few players who have emerged more recently a chance to shine, and assess others who have been away from the team. On this score the games were a success.

It’s not that the result does not count at all. The draw against Namibia has probably increased the negativity that surrounds Bafana. In some ways going “into hiding” in Brazil and Germany for two months, where Parreira and Bafana can work and build in peace, could be a godsend.

It’s at these camps that Parreira intends to forge a team that will be unrecognisable from the one that took the field against Namibia. Asked about the style of play the coach wants Bafana to establish, he said: “There is no secret. Play it simple. Get a shape, get a face — that identity that we don’t have at the moment, in my opinion.

“When you talk about Brazil, Germany or Italy, you know the kind of football they will play. The pace, the style and the tradition. And here we are a mix-up, with so many club coaches from different countries.

“In the first two years when I was here we tried to establish an identity and in the last two games before I left, against Canada and Paraguay, I believe we succeeded. Ball on the ground, ball possession, good shape, good organisation.

“If we don’t play to our strength, which is technique, ball on the ground, skills, we will not succeed. This is what we want the players to learn in Brazil — how the Brazilian players play. They value possession.”

Strangely, Parreira preferred a first half against Namibia where Bafana played square more and created few chances, than a more direct second half. This is because the coach says he wants his players to learn the carpet game in stages.

“First of all possession; second, possession with speed; third, ball possession, speed and directness. First the feeling of ball possession, what it means to stay with the ball — it doesn’t matter if it’s square, back or slow. And then ball possession with speed. In the third case ball possession speed and directness. It takes time.”

It might all sound a bit fanciful, but Parreira has a point — if Bafana can’t be inspired by a month in Brazil then they might be worth giving up on. Until then South Africans, cheer up, learn your diski dance and buy your vuvuzela, Bafana shirt and ticket. Bafana could be the team to watch in 2010.

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