Give me hope, Bafana

2014-09-13 00:00

HAVING conversations about Bafana Bafana that don’t involve profanities and blasphemies are rare occurrences, but there were plenty of those going on this week after two extremely encouraging Afcon qualifiers.

Shakes Mashaba is up and running, and with four points from their first two matches, Bafana will now be backing themselves to qualify for Morocco 2015 at little more than a canter.

Sir Alex Ferguson used to say, in the days when Manchester United played Champions League football, that it took 10 points from the group stages to all but ensure qualification through to the knockouts. If we apply the same logic to Bafana’s Afcon qualifying campaign, then victories at home against Sudan and the Congo should be enough to go through. That would be the minimum requirement, but Mashaba will be expecting his side to pick up points on their trips to Nigeria and the Congo too.

It has been an encouraging start. Against Nigeria, Bafana were fierce. The physicality of the visitors was quelled by determination and grit — summed up best by two Jon Obi Mikel incidents. First, the towering midfielder — Nigeria’s golden boy — was on the receiving end of a nasty tackle from Bafana’s Thabo Matlaba. Mikel was livid and went straight after the Orlando Pirates fullback. Mikel, at 1,89 metres, is some 20 centimetres taller than Matlaba and when the pair squared off there was only going to be one winner. But Matlaba’s reaction to the advancing giant was priceless. He stood firm, head pointed skywards, and shoved the Chelsea man back a metre or two. Dynamite, small packages and all that. But, more importantly, it was a moment that exposed Nigeria’s frustration at not being able to have their own way in Cape Town. It was also a moment indicative of the passion that was fuelling Bafana that night. There was unity.

The other Mikel moment came after a corner, when the ball fell to Dean Furman. Immense for Bafana on the night, Furman backed himself for a shot while running at pace from just outside the area. He missed the ball, but went crashing into Mikel. Mikel was left in a heap on the floor, while Furman dusted himself off and was on his merry way again.

Furman’s performance was extraordinary. It was difficult to count the number of crucial tackles he made in the match. His decision to play for Bafana has been the biggest blessing we’ve had in a long while. But he was not the only one who impressed.

Andile Jali’s man-of-the-match performance alongside Furman was a first-class display, while Erick Matoho’s command at centre back was equally admirable. Sibusiso Vilakazi is fast on his way to becoming the darling of South African football, and Mandla Masango caused problems down the right for the Nigerian defence.

Bafana reduced the reigning Afcon champions to a nervous mess by the end of 90 minutes, and the visitors were lucky to come out of the match with a draw.

It surely spells the end of the Tshabalala-inspired Bafana of 2010, and the likes of Teko Modise, Katlego Mphela and Bongani Khumalo surely have no way back in.

How Mashaba handles Itumeleng Khune’s return will also be interesting. Senzo Meyiwa hasn’t really been tested in these opening two fixtures, but he has lead the side with aplomb and made the most of his opportunity.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and there is still a long way to go before Bafana provide any real reason to celebrate. But there is hope, and hope is more than we’ve had in quite a while.

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