Time to show some faith

2008-06-20 00:00

PERHAPS it is time to show a little faith in Bafana Bafana, who take on Sierra Leone in a must-win African Nations Cup qualifier at the Super Stadium in Atteridgeville this afternoon.

Yes, the national team are reeling from another ignominious defeat. And, yes, Bafana have won just one qualifier out of three, their 4-1 victory at home to Equatorial Guinea sandwiched between a 2-0 away loss to Nigeria and last weekend’s 1-0 defeat in Freetown against 163rd-ranked Sierra Leone.

But after the loss of coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, and with the extremely short time new coach Joel Santana has had with the team, Bafana’s four qualifiers over four weeks were never going to be easy.

Once again, as is the case whenever Bafana lose, everyone seems to know what Santana should do. There have been calls for the coach to employ two out-and-out strikers and to play with one defensive midfielder instead of the duo of Kagisho Dikgacoi and Macbeth Sibaya.

Yet, where did this sort of criticism get Bafana when, at the Nations Cup finals in Ghana in January, Carlos Alberto Parreira buckled to media pressure and switched to a two-striker system? South Africa’s 3-0 victory over Paraguay directly after the tournament with the coach’s preferred 4-5-1 formation showed Parreira had been right and the media wrong.

Playing with one striker is not necessarily defensive. The system works well if the support players get into the area to back up the lone striker, whose role is to hold the ball up and knock passes around on the edge of the area rather than act as a target man.

Or, as Parreira put it after the Paraguay victory: “People were saying, ‘Why not two or three strikers?’ You don’t need two or three strikers to score goals. You need people coming from behind to reach the area.”

This approach worked well for Santana in his last home game against a similar standard team as Sierra Leone in Equatorial Guinea, so why change it? The time now is for cool heads and sensible reasoning, not for panicking and reactive calls for change.

The problem for Santana is that, being so new to the job, he must rely largely on the information of those around him. There was no doubt that Parreira was the boss in a cohesive, consultative technical team. At present, the influence on selections and tactics seems to be more a matter of consensus between Santana and his two assistants, Pitso Mosimane and Jairo Leal.

Santana will become more familiar with the players he has at his disposal after a detailed perusal of the Premier Soccer League’s talent once it kicks off in August, and after inventorying the overseas-based players. It is hoped he will then put a firmer hand to the tiller. However, considering Bafana’s erratic, wavering form at present, the coach might be advised to begin taking greater control even sooner.

A big victory today would leave South Africa in a far more secure position in Group 4. There will still be big questions to be asked. Can Bafana get at least a point off their nemesis Nigeria at home on September 5? Can they win their first away game in a year against Equatorial Guinea in Malabo on October 10?

First, though, Bafana must put away what appeared, in Freetown, to be a fairly pedestrian Sierra Leone team, though, also one deserving of a better ranking than 163rd.

With Bevan Fransman, Teko Modise and Terror Fanteni all likely to play, the key concern is over captain Aaron Mokoena. It is a mark of the nonsensical criticism that is sometimes thrown at the national team that Mokoena, who occasionally makes critical mistakes, can be the fall-guy following a Bafana defeat.

The Blackburn Rovers defender’s leadership was clearly missed against Sierra Leone. Mokoena will hope to take his place in defence alongside Fransman, rested last weekend because of the concussion he suffered against Equatorial Guinea.

South Africa’s most consistent performer in the qualifiers has been midfielder Steven Pienaar, while Modise is slowly maturing, and seems to relish the national team’s home encounters especially.

Bafana will hope for more of the same that the team displayed in their last outing on the Super Stadium’s well-manicured pitch.

A victory is not just essential to boost Bafana’s chances for Angola 2010. The ramifications of not winning are simply inconceivable.

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