Cape Town – Oh, woe is us.
Just when the nation so needed a sporting pick-me-up, Bafana Bafana failed quite lamentably on a blue Monday to provide the desired spark.
You had to be a masochist to be prepared to watch their Africa Cup of Nations opener against Ivory Coast in Cairo for a second time, so rare were the highlights in a technically lamentable game where the opposition were simply a little less bankrupt and warranted their 1-0 victory.
Having recorded the pre-match anthems wouldn’t lead to any joy, either: South Africa’s was played at the kind of funereal pace that served as a harbinger of the panache and punch – well, not -- to come from Bafana.
It’s a perilous, back-foot start to South Africa’s challenge at the event, where they are rooted to joint bottom of Group D with neighbours Namibia and both desperately needing to win their bilateral tussle -- again in the Egyptian capital, on Friday – to claw back into the race.
At least that will be a night game, possibly enhancing the chance of Bafana looking less lifeless in the stifling heat there than they did in the game one afternoon sauna.
This was a bad time for Thulani Hlatshwayo’s men to experience a first-time defeat to the Ivorians, doing nothing to lift the country’s -- possibly unprecedented? -- overall gloom on the sports front, what with the particularly odious showing of the Proteas at the World Cup and our Super Rugby teams all having been put to pasture by completion of only the quarter-finals in the 2019 competition.
“We could have lost 3-0,” reminded 66-cap national legend Teko Modise in his SuperSport punditry capacity afterwards, hardly by way of anti-depressant.
He was right on the button there, because goalkeeper Ronwen Williams -- almost automatically deserving status as Bafana’s “MVP” – produced two superlative saves, one through presenting an admirably full, impregnable figure at point-blank range and another through use of fingertips at maximum stretch from a set-piece, to keep a lid on the score-line to some degree.
In terms of concocting decent chances themselves, Bafana were about as blunt as ever witnessed from them, the one and only truly good one being spurned when Hlatshwayo overcooked his close-range header from Sifiso Hlanti’s well-executed cross to watch it go well over the bar in the first half.
“These were difficult conditions; I feel a bit for them,” said veteran Wits mastermind Gavin Hunt, referring to the temperature that reportedly stayed stubbornly in the high thirties even as shadows descended on the Al Salam Stadium, which sports of a capacity of some 30,000 but may have been lucky to see a tenth of that for the tepid game.
“We never kept the ball to (be able to) build pressure. We didn’t turn their midfielders; we were very static. There will have to be soul-searching … and we are going to have to find a win now.”
By extension to the last statement, Hunt might well have been saying in his mind that he doesn’t anticipate a flood of goals arriving any time soon for Bafana, who failed lamentably to put the predatory Percy Tau (averaging a goal every other game for the country ahead of Monday’s fixture) into any positions to be a major threat.
On this evidence, if you offered them 1-0 in advance against the modest Namibians – their easiest group game on paper before the most taxing in that respect, Morocco – you can bet Stuart Baxter would grab it quite gleefully.
For a clash of two past winners of Afcon, Monday’s failed dismally to stir any enthusiasm, although a gradually rebuilding Ivory Coast, seeking to recapture more notable past glories, did seem hugely chuffed with their maximum points to become pace-setters among the quartet with the Moroccans.
If Bafana are going to produce some come-from-behind inspiration that has been so lamentably absent from Faf du Plessis and company in England, knocking over the globally 113th ranked Namibians -- who just trail Azerbaijan and nudge out Kazakhstan – is essential, yet far from a Friday banker based on monotonous evidence from their opener …
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