Santana remains positive

2008-09-07 00:00

BAFANA Bafana coach Joel Santana reamins positive about the team’s prospects for the 2010 World Cup, despite losing 1-0 to Nigeria in Port Elizabeth on Saturday to fail to qualify for the African Nations Cup.

The setback of not reaching the Nations Cup, which takes place in Angola four months before the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, could have been expected when former Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira announced his resignation in late April, a month before the qualifiers started. But crashing out will increase the pressure on Santana.

South Africans will be forgiven for believing there is a jinx against Bafana. Players could have closed their eyes and scored some of the chances missed against Nigeria. Nigeria had only two clear-cut chances and scored from one of them.

“We dominated both the first and second halves, and particularly the second half when the wind was with us,” the coach said. “I’m satisfied that the team is improving. I complimented each player individually because I was totally satisfied with their performance.”

The home side dazzled in midfield to entirely dominate a flat Super Eagles. But a breakaway goal in the 70th minute by Ikechukwu Uche, who beat Mbulelo Mabizela then slid his shot past goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, broke South Africa’s hearts.

You have to hand it to injury-hit Nigeria, whom South Africa have not beaten in six competitive meetings. The Super Eagles have won all five of their qualifying games, and showed class to weather the pressure and still come out with a victory.

“Ball possession does not amount to winning,” said Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu. “What is important is scoring and winning. We came here to keep our perfect record and we managed that. South Africa put a lot of pressure on us, but we were very resilient.”

Some of the Johannesburg dailies might crucify Santana today. This position, though, does not take into account the reasons for Bafana’s failure to qualify for Angola.

The first four qualifiers came a month after Bafana were reeling from Parreira’s shock resignation, and during Santana’s first month in charge.

Santana will be criticised for his formation, utilising two defensive midfielders and a lone striker (Benni McCarthy) playing in front of a shadow striker (Siyabonga Nkosi). But the formation worked — Bafana just could not score.

The South Africans did not play defensive football — on the contrary they threw themselves into attack. The two defensive midfielders, Kagisho Dikgacoi and MacBeth Sibaya, gave the attacking players a platform to attack freely, and they did.

Siphiwe Tshabalala, on the left, was phenomenal, skinning Nigerian right-back Chidi Odiah. Teko Modise and Dikgacoi’s skills in confined spaces, and intelligent inter-play, created space and turned defensive situations into attacking ones.

Despite Bafana’s crashing out of the Afcon, it was an encouraging performance that, along with the 2-2 friendly draw against Australia in London, suggests Bafana are stabilising under Santana.

“I told the players that playing well or badly happens. However, I would prefer to lose with a strong team than to win a game with a cowardly team,” Santana said.

South Africa had the better possession in the first half, though mostly settled for shots from range.

But Bafana really came to life in the first 20 minutes of the second period. Siphiwe Tshabalala began to tear through the Nigerian defence, and had an excellent chance to score in the 55th minute, but slipped and scuffed his shot charging in on Nkosi’s cross.

Nkosi, the main culprit of the missed chances, shot straight at goalkeeper Dele Aiyenugba and then wide, and produced a poor first touch in a one-on-one. Bafana were on fire and a good PE crowd were behind them, as for the moment it seemed the dead, overly-flogged horse the national team has become had actually come back to life again.

Uche’s goal silenced the crowd, and Nkosi shot straight at Aiyenugba from point-blank range near the end to miss out on a share of the spoils.

Group 4

Saturday: South Africa 0 Nigeria 1, Sierra Leone 2 Equatorial Guinea 1

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