Queiroz must put the wheels back on

South Africa have a relatively easy group for the first round but do they have the players?

Thebe Mabanga

Last Saturday’s World Cup draw set in motion speculation that ranged from the sober to the senseless (what else can one call Minister of Sport and Recreation Ngconde Balfour’s suggestion that South Africa will win the World Cup?).

In sports, confidence is a crucial ingredient for success. Too much of it is bad, Holland prove this point and missed out on the finals.
But a lack of it can be just as bad, and no one proves this quite like South Africa, who are grouped with Spain, Slovenia and Paraguay.

At the moment, our national football team looks like an expensive car stripped of body parts. The expensive aluminium shell with shimmering metallic paint reminds everyone of our status as former continental champions. Yet the engine is sluggish, gearbox limited in its function and wheel alignment virtually non-existent.

In truth we are paying the price of 18 months of persisting with Trott Moloto as coach. Moloto took a good team and reduced it to an amorphous entity using a 3-5-2 formation that hinged on a solid defence.

They laboured and slogged, scraping together results when it mattered most. Against minnows Malta, it took an inspired moment of improvisation from one the best players in Moloto’s reign, Thabo Mngomeni, to secure a 1-0 victory.

When Moloto took the team to the Nike Cup in the United States, one of the embarrassing results he obtained was a 4-0 loss to Mexico. This is the same margin by which the Mexicans beat us in Los Angeles in 1993. They must have been left wondering what we had learnt in the period between the meetings.

When Moloto made way for Carlos Queiroz things began to look up. The Mozambique-born coach survived what could have been a baptism of fire in a friendly against France. The French brought their Arsenal but didn’t fire the big guns, and Bafana held them at bay for a goalless draw.

Since then, sadly, not only has Moloto’s influence remained like an albatross, but Queiroz has assembled some body parts that were sufficient to enable us to qualify for the African Cup of Nations and World Cup.

The goalkeeping berth is pretty safe. Andre Arendse and Hans Vonk have a marginal difference in overall ability only. The challenge is to blood long-term replacements. John Tlale must be sacrificed for the likes of former under-23 keepers Emille Baron and Rowan Fernandez

Sibusiso Zuma, our good-looking, adroit charismatic talisman earned his spurs during the qualifying campaigns and is the face of Queiroz. His combination with Siyabonga Nomvete should be cemented at the Nations Cup if they are to make an impact on the world stage.

Our problems start up front. In qualifying for the World Cup by winning five out of six matches, Bafana Bafana never scored more than two goals in a game.

South Africa needs a striker who combines predatory instincts and craftsmanship. Sadly, the player who best combines these qualities, Benni McCarthy, is now sluggish, rotund and uninterested, wasting away on the bench of Celta Vigo.

Quinton Fortune is another example of a player with World Cup experience who has stuttered since 1998. On the left side of the, a number of players have presented their credentials to challenge for a place.

From Bradley Carnell and Jacob Lekghetlo to Dillon Shepherd and Delron Buckley, injury and club commitments have ensured that we have not yet found the right blend and instead we persist with the ineffectual Misfortune of Manchester.

The heart of defence remains an unsettled portion of the team. In the end we might find ourselves being forced to swallow our pride and opt for the likes of Pierre Issa and Mark Fish, who play for medium-sized teams in the English leagues.

The alternative is to imagine the last game in the group stages against Spain, Gaizhka Mendieta slipping a sublime through ball for Raul, and Andrew Rabutla giving chase. You will see a man choke on a trail of vapour fumes and artificial grass.

Our stay in Korea will hinge on our performance against Slovenia in the second game. If we lose to the debutants and finish below them in our group, they will be worthy of a heroes’ welcome.

On either side of beating Slovenia, we must ensure that we do well against Paraguay not to be confused with Uruguay as Tshepo Mabona and Mike Mangena did on national television this week. The land-locked South American nation beat Brazil and drew twice with Argentina in the qualifiers.

Finally, we must take inspiration from Nigeria, who were grouped with Spain in 1998. Nigeria not only beat Spain with a screamer from Sunday Oliseh to bundle them out in the first round, they ensured that one of the world’s most talented football teams, like Holland, remained consigned to a heap of tales of unrealised potential.

Group B

June 2, Busan: South Africa vs Paraguay, 9.30am

June 2, Gwangju: Spain vs Slovenia, 1.30pm

June 7, Jeonju: Spain vs Paraguay, 11.00am

June 8, Daegu: South Africa vs Slovenia, 8.30am

June 12, Daejeon: South Africa vs Spain, 1.30pm

June 12, Seogwipo: Slovenia vs Paraguay, 1.30pm

(all times Central African Time)

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