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Bafana: Points for Igesund to ponder

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By Rodney Reiners

Cape Town – Gordon Igesund is already bunkered down, assessing Bafana Bafana’s campaign in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, and planning ahead for the upcoming 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

A coach’s work is never done. The emotions resulting from a football match – be it positive or negative – last just a while and then there’s another game to prepare for. After almost 20 years in the coaching business, the 56-year-old Igesund is certainly aware of the dangers of complacency.

South Africa may be feeling good about Bafana right now, but he knows how quickly the mood can change if he doesn’t continue to keep the national team on an upward trajectory.

After an impressive Nations Cup display, here are some thoughts for Igesund to ponder:

What worked

The predominant theme that reflects the current feel-good Zeitgest is the pride with which Bafana performed. For far too long, supporters have had to endure some soporific and indifferent spells of football from their national team. In the last three games under Igesund – against Angola, Morocco and Mali – Bafana showed commitment, energy and purpose. They played with pride, they wore the jersey with honour, and that is all a nation can ask of its sports teams. No side can win each and every match, that’s axiomatic, but performances should at least imbue the country’s people with pride. And, at the Nations Cup, that’s what Bafana did. This is the desire and spirit which Igesund should demand from his players whenever they are asked to don a national jersey.

The squad that did duty at the Nations Cup

Igesund emphasised the point that he was proud of his squad’s accomplishments. The 23 men will, therefore, form the basis of his thinking for the World Cup qualifiers, but they are, by no means, guaranteed a place in the future. Others will come into contention as the Bafana coach strives to strengthen the squad, and in this way raise their level of performance even more.

GOALKEEPERS: Itumeleng Khune, Wayne Sandilands, Senzo Meyiwa

Khune was, of course, one of the stars. His outstanding display, and superb saves, against Morocco will live on in memory. But, despite his agility and supreme confidence, the Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper’s weak areas were also clearly on show. He is suspect on the high ball and indecisive on crosses, which, of course, was how Bafana conceded goals at the tournament. He’s only 25, so has plenty of time to work on these shortcomings, but it’s something Igesund should now make a priority for his number one keeper.

Sandilands and Meyiwa were the back-ups, but others who will challenge in the months to come include Moeneeb Josephs (making his way back from injury) and the brilliant Ronwen Williams of SuperSport United.

Defenders: Anele Ngcongca, Siboniso Gaxa, Tsepo Masilela, Thabo Matlaba, Siyabonga Sangweni, Bongani Khumalo, Thabo Nthethe

Ngcongca was solid at right-back and his place is safe. He missed the quarter-final against Mali through suspension, where his replacement Gaxa was guilty of a few lapses in concentration. The central defensive duo of Bongani Khumalo and Siyabonga Sangweni were caught out on a few occasions, but overall were solid enough. They, too, like Khune, appear hesitant and doubtful on crosses. Sangweni, however, chipped in with two crucial goals. At left-back, Tsepo Masilela is the undoubted top selection for this position, and performed admirably thoughout.

While the team’s defensive shape and organisation were, for the most part, something to rely on, one of the glaring problems in defence was the inability of players to pick up loose opponents in and around the penalty area.

The most obvious name to come into the team in central defence is Chiefs’ Morgan Gould, who has been out injured. Others to stake a claim for future squads are Eric Matoho, Happy Jele, Bevan Fransman, Luvhengo Mungomeni, Ricardo Nunes, Clayton Daniels and Siyanda Xulu.

Midfielders: Thulani Serero, Lerato Chabangu, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Dean Furman, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Thuso Phala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, May Mahlangu, Oupa Manyisa

Furman and Mahlangu are the duo who sparked Bafana. After a dour 0-0 draw with Cape Verde in the opening Nations Cup fixture, Igesund drafted the pair into the centre of midfield – and a fresh, animated team emerged in subsequent games.

Furman’s poise under pressure and disciplined positional play allowed the team’s creative sparks to flourish.

Often, in the past, Bafana’s midfielders were guilty of passing sideways and backwards, resulting in the team going nowhere and facilitating the monotonous predictability of their approach. But Mahlangu changed all this. His dynamic, jack-in-the-box attitude forced the team into attack. He drove them forward with energy and enthusiasm, and his vibrant presence was responsible for the exciting Bafana on display.

The pugnacious Letsholonyane was excellent against Mali, and Phala, who was Igesund’s surprise pick of the tournament, was pacy and influential throughout. Serero, back from injury, was far from match fit and he will improve as his international career continues.

This area, though, is where Igesund needs to make some critical decisions because there are many names waiting in the wings, including Andile Jali, Daine Klate, Sifiso Miyeni, Tlou Segolela, Franklin Cale, Sameehg Doutie, Granwald Scott, George Maluleka, George Lebese, David Mathebula, Daylon Claasen, Lance Davids, Matthew Pattison and Teko Modise. And there are even a few long-term prospects in Ajax’s teenage trio, Toriq Losper, Travis Graham and Keagan Dolly.

Strikers: Bernard Parker, Katlego Mphela, Tokelo Rantie, Lehlohonolo Majoro

Igesund’s biggest headache. The lack of a reliable goal-getter has troubled every recent Bafana coach, and Igesund will have to find a way to solve this problem.

Either a youngster is going to have to come to light – like Benni McCarthy did all those years ago – or the coach is going to have to train and drill his chosen strikers relentlessly in an effort to get them to increase their goal tally.

Because, for all Bafana’s good work in build-up play, they still do not finish their scoring chances consistently enough.

Rantie looks a fine prospect, Majoro netted against Angola, Mphela, just back from injury, is out of shape, while the industrious Parker remains more a midfielder than a striker.

Others Igesund will look at are Ayanda Patosi, Calvin Kadi, Kermit Erasmus, Davide Somma, Bradley Grobler, Mabhuti Khenyeza, Edward Manqele, Richard Henyekane and, if he wants to, depending on the situation or the opposition, veterans Siyabonga Nomvethe and McCarthy. – Cape Argus

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