No surprises from Bafana

Mark Gleeson

Bafana Bafana ended the year with kind of result that has unfortunately become more of a norm than an anomaly.

Defeat against the United States was disappointing, ending an unbeaten run since Pitso Mosimane took over as coach and again laying bare the lack of depth at his disposal.

Steven Pienaar ran his socks off on the night and was patently the best player, leading by example as he wore the captain’s armband for the first time.

But it was Davide Somma who surprisingly won the man of the match award, embarrassingly chosen by fellow scribes.

There was a possible response to the Leeds United players’ debut including a ‘thumbs up’ from Mosimane.

But Somma looks no answer to the problem the team have of scoring goals and the plaudits he earned on the night were generous indeed.

I thought he was far too slow, his decision making delayed and anticipation off the mark. He produced one through ball to Anele Ngcongca in the first half that produced Bafana Bafana’s best chance but Somma was made to look good in that situation by the flying run from behind him by the fullback.

The friendly matches have evolved over the last years into a chance really only to experiment and not much more. Bringing on six substitutes in the second half, as both teams were allowed, effectively kills off the contest, stripping the tempo and flow.

But there are not many opportunities when the coach has the luxury of testing out new players or combinations, and so this is what the friendly matches on the FIFA co-ordinated calendar, now restricted to August, November and February and whatever countries can organise for themselves at the end of the season in May, have become.

The Americans really used the game for fringe players and took the ‘mickey’ out the whole affair by using a 17-year-old, who had barely played a senior game before the outing in Cape Town. How ironic then that Juan Argudelo scores the only goal of the game.

South Africa’s line-up really only missed three first choice players in Aaron Mokoena, MacBeth Sibaya (both rested) and the injured Katlego Mphela. It is therefore cause for concern that even, in a supposedly more relaxed setting, Bafana Bafana looked utterly uninspiring.

In four months’ time, the team play a massive Nations Cup qualifying game against Egypt that if they win will put them well on course to qualify for the 2012 African Nations Cup finals. To miss out on qualification for that tournament would be a major setback for the game in this country, desperately hoping to pick up steam on the back of the successful World Cup hosting experience.

Hopefully there will be more initiative, verve and general desire than was on display in midweek.

Victory is important, even if it is in as meaningless a game as that against the Yanks. Winning breeds winners. It was just one year ago that the national team was in a hopeless spiral of loses that eventually ended with the sacking of Joel Santana.

Bafana Bafana need some introspection before the tough assignments of 2011 if the side is to advance up the ladder of world football. The kind of display seen in Cape Town must not be repeated.

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

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