In a bid to win back the full support of fans, Bafana Bafana head coach Molefi Ntseki has highlighted the importance of the team reflecting a defined South African football identity.
His predecessor Stuart Baxter was often criticised for his conservative approach, despite the Scotsman guiding the national team to a rare Afcon quarterfinal before he quit in August.
Ntseki is well aware that the question of identity is fundamental as the fans appreciate results that come with exciting football.
Ahead of Thursday’s opening 2021 Afcon qualifier in Ghana, the 50-year-old has an idea about how he wants his side to play: “Our approach will be a mobile, quick passing game, with discipline when it comes to the defensive and offensive mode of the game.”
There was tension at times when Baxter was in charge. His cautious approach left no room for experienced playmakers like Thulani Serero.
In a rare start for Bafana, the United Arab Emirates-based midfielder influenced the result in Bafana’s 2-1 win against Mali in a friendly that marked Ntseki’s first match in charge last month.
The former national youth coach believes Bafana’s style of play should resonate with the kind of players South Africa produces.
“South African players are different from any other on the continent because we have got a South African football DNA – we are mobile and creative, and we have got skill.
“And I always say a skilful player should be able to help the team win matches – that is, eliminate opponents and create or score goals,” Ntseki said on the sidelines of the Bafana squad announcement for qualifiers against Ghana and Sudan.
“But if you look at our offensive players, most of them, I’d say they – maybe not the right word to use – are small-bodied, but very quick and mobile. And I think with those qualities, we need to work more on making the players believe in those qualities because we can’t compare ourselves with any other nation in terms of physique.
“We’ve seen with the likes of Spain that height doesn’t matter as long as you balance your team.
“There are those positions within the team that you can’t compromise. You’ll always look for a taller goalkeeper, a centre-back who has explosiveness in his physical exertions, and a midfielder with creativity and a high level of technical ability.
“Playing with a number nine who has got some physical qualities will help you. But now, of late, if you can’t have a big number nine, you’ll always look into a mobile, ‘false’ number nine,” the coach said.
Ntseki said crafting a team that was complemented with an attractive style of play goes with the proper profiling of the players. However, he warned that South Africa was not a country in isolation from the wider world, and that taking lessons from opponents was equally important.
Ntseki will face a sterner test in the first chapter of his tenure when the Afcon qualifying group stage finally gets under way this week.
Bafana are in the same pool as Ghana and Sudan, and islanders São Tomé and Príncipe.
South Africa open their campaign against Ghana in the Cape Coast on Thursday and host Sudan at Orlando Stadium in Soweto three days later.
Given the short time between the two games, the soft-spoken tactician said most of the preparation work was done during the team’s training camp for the Nelson Mandela Challenge against Mali in Port Elizabeth.
Kick-off is Thursday at 9pm.