Bafana: Symbol of a nation’s stagnation

Cape Town - Atonement … it can be a powerful, often noble driver.

That is why even the slightly ageing cynic I am managed to muster a tangible sense of excitement ahead of Bafana Bafana’s very swift opportunity to avenge their supposedly “shock” 2-1 World Cup qualifying defeat against Cape Verde Islands in Praia.

Oh, the volume of my naivety.

After some 20 minutes of play at sparsely-populated Moses Mabhida Stadium on Tuesday night, I was probably not alone in already detecting only nastily budding signs - like that bit of food that sometimes, oddly escapes from your stomach back up to your throat - of repeat trauma.

Keeping a culinary theme, if you like, chickens came home to roost as the score-line was simply repeated … a famous result for the islanders, although I say that guardedly because just how great, really, was beating this muted, blunt and so unrelentingly featureless South African side?

Where was the urgency, the gusto, the pride required to implement a reversal of fortune against the Atlantic minnows?

Our national anthem beforehand had been a strangely laboured, behind-the-beat affair and the hallmark seemed, all too quickly, to infect the Bafana players.

Slow build-up? Well that’s OK if you are building up at all, but in those opening exchanges, when it is customary to try to make a vigorous statement of your bossing intentions, South Africa “dominated possession” largely because they wasted tracts of vital time tapping the ball languidly between each other in lateral fashion - even that intended accuracy wasn’t always suitably pinpoint, mind - in the back third of play.

Which is a bonsella of note to your opponents if they have clearly arrived with the intention, at least initially, of parking the proverbial bus anyway; Bafana’s visible lack of intent would only have buoyed them for a dream away result, there and then.

When South Africa did, and mercifully, shamble up toward the other third of the pitch, crosses were delivered with the kind of looping inauspiciousness we frown on in our Wednesday old crocks sessions between the municipal black bins on a school field at Camps Bay.

Bradley Grobler, smack in the “area”, did get a chance to put in a menacing header on goal, but all expectancy died as he directed it tamely downward into the turf and straight, making collection by the Cape Verde goalkeeper as easy as plucking the chunky freebie suburban newspaper out of your post-box.

At least Turkish-based Tokelo Rantie managed to fizz a shot or two, albeit that they fizzed wide.

Although he could not be faulted in either of the excellent Cape Verde goals, Bafana’s own custodian of the ‘keeping jersey on the night, Wayne Sandilands, sported “war-painted” upper cheeks but that was where any bellicosity on his part effectively ended, I thought.

I had suggested before even the away tussle against these modest foes that Bafana might miss the gee-up qualities of indisposed leadership figure Itumeleng Khune between the sticks, and evidence from the two different men tasked with deputising for him in this damaging double-header did little to quell the belief.

Khune is a constructively theatrical fellow, keeping everyone in front of him on their toes to the best degree he can - that might have been a special challenge in Durban, mind - and generally involving himself like an extra defender; his raking throw-outs also provide at least an illusion of team energy, pace and drive.

Heck, he is a personality and there seemed so desperately few of those amidst the home ranks at eerie Moses Mabhida.

It all made you hark back longingly to around - and even more gloriously before it, too - the last time South Africa qualified under orthodox circumstances for a World Cup (South Korea/Japan, in pretty distant 2002).

Their squad of the time included such commanding figures as Lucas Radebe, Benni McCarthy, MacBeth Sibaya and Siyabonga Nomvethe. With respect, not too many of the players we’ve just seen outsmarted by Cape Verde would be worthy, in aura terms, of carrying their kit-bags.

Bafana were almost too sterile on Tuesday to be branded inept, too unambitious to be guilty of comedic error.

Perhaps that is also the only explanation for SuperSport analyst and former national-level and Kaizer Chiefs defender Jimmy Tau bizarrely contending afterwards that he “couldn’t fault the performance”.

Just as weirdly, South Africa aren’t even buried yet in this doggy-slop of a Group D, where none of the quartet has managed to gallop truly clear - Bafana somehow remain only two points off the dubious top with two rounds of matches left.

But can you really see us “gracing” Russia?

Me, I only see problems, the way things numbingly are again, if we were suddenly tasked with repelling the likes of Montserrat or Macau. (Not that I wish to summarily diss Macau ... I’ve been there; it’s a nice place.)

Bafana Bafana? It’s almost impossible not to view the 2017 crew, at least as witnessed over the last four days, as statements of the nation’s overall loss of societal optimism and sparkle, and descent in so many instances to revisited levels of rank disgrace.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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