Bafana defeated, but all is not lost

He conceded that it left a lump in the throat that they were back in South Africa at this early juncture of the Africa Cup of Nations, but worldly Bafana Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said it was heartening and encouraging that many positives had emerged in spite of South Africa’s opening-round elimination.

At a press conference on Saturday at OR Tambo International Airport after the Bafana party of players and officials had arrived nine hours later than scheduled, Parreira said South Africa had held their own and more in all three games against Angola, Tunisia and Senegal—and slipped up through lapses in concentration, resulting in costly goals being conceded.

“There is certainly a need for the Bafana players to appreciate the necessity to concentrate for the full 90 minutes of a match,” said Parreira. “You can play impressively for 89 minutes and lose out because of a slip-up in a single minute.”

But he believes a relatively young squad have acquitted themselves well and demonstrated improvement in many areas.

“I think we performed as a genuine team and with a lot of spirit and determination,” he said, “and this was something that was not evident when I first arrived in South Africa.”

Parreira said he believes Bafana are on course to assemble a worthwhile and respectable combination for the 2010 World Cup and likened what is taking place to building a pyramid.

“The foundation is already taking shape,” he added, “and now we must take the next steps forward in a series of tough friendlies, qualifiers for the next Africa Nations Cup tournament and the Confederation Cup that will feature such formidable opponents as Italy and Brazil in South Africa next year.”

Parreira defended the decision to switch captain Aaron Mokoena from his usual central defensive midfield role to that of a holding midfielder, but conceded it was not the success he had hoped would materialise.

“But those who are criticising the move most vocally now,” he added, “are the same people who were imploring me to make the change beforehand.

“Aaron is employed in midfield by Blackburn Rovers and it made sense to see how he would fit into this role for Bafana.
If it did not work quite as we would have liked, it was better to discover it now than at a later stage.”

Parreira also warded off questions on why number-one goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez had been taken to Ghana with an injured hand.

“The medical opinion before the squad left,” said Parreira, “was that there was a good chance he would be fit for the second fixture against Tunisia. But Rowen suffered a further setback to the injury when he resumed training in Ghana and we had to accept the fact that he would not recover sufficiently to take part in the Nations Cup.”

Mokoena also felt that a young squad had fulfilled expectations in spite of the first-round elimination. “I’m sure we are on the right track,” added the Bafana captain, “and some negative criticism of our performances is totally unwarranted.”—Sapa

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