Although his new side failed to make it past round one at the Africa Cup of Nations, Carlos Alberto Parreira won’t be entirely depressed.
Bafana’s performance at the tournament in Egypt in 2006 was marked by a medley of administrative foibles, disruptive player mutinies, pre-tournament shenanigans and sepulchral lethargy that showed on the field when they failed to score — never mind notch up points.
Thabo Mbeki, not particularly known for his football sensibilities, was moved to mention them in his State of the Nation address.
It’s not likely that Mbeki will censure them in his penultimate State of the Nation speech on Friday. Playing in a group that had Angola, surprise representatives at the World Cup 2006; Tunisia, African champions in 2004; and Senegal, perhaps the only African giant that has never won anything, Bafana came back with two goals and two points.
”The team showed glimpses of some nice play,” 1996 Africa Cup of Nations-winning captain Neil Tovey said.
He said the young bloods performed well, but were not supported by the established players, who were unreliable in central defence, not sharp enough in midfield and blunt up-front — where the team’s lack of a recognised striker was sorely exposed.
”There was no striker at the tournament. Perhaps only Terror Fanteni is a recognised striker,” said Tovey, adding that Sibusiso Zuma is not an out-and-out striker. He said central defence was a mess and ”although Nasief Morris is a good player”, he couldn’t concentrate on his own game because he was also watching for the leaden-footed Benson Mhlongo, who had an especially bad tournament.
Morris was not faultless though. In a momentary lapse he made a back pass to the keeper in the match against Tunisia that Francileudo dos Santos pounced on to score. Tovey noted that there were many positives and much potential to be sifted, but ”there is still a lot of work to do”.
”Being a new team, I think we go back home with some positive things,” Parreira said. ”My young players learned a lot about high-level football and the process of learning goes on. We are satisfied with some things but, for the World Cup, of course, we need to improve a lot.”
Parreira, who has coached players such as Ronaldo, Kaka and Ronaldinho, has brought flair with discipline. There is more purposeful movement, more deft touches and penetration through the middle of the park, which a less goal-apprehensive strike force and a leaky defence should not compromise.
Shorn of a recognised goal scorer of the likes of Benni McCarthy, South Africa scored two goals at this year’s tournament — a goal more than Nigeria, who boast Newcastle’s Obafemi Martins, Portsmouth’s Nwanku Kanu and Everton’s Yakubu Aiyegbeni.
Steven Keshi, Nigeria’s captain when they won the title in 1994 and the coach who took Togo to the last World Cup, noted that the South African team used their time there as a ”training period”. The tournament did more than train, as it ushered in a new set of players, including the likes of Bryce Moon and Tshepo Masilela.
Steven Pienaar and Aaron Mokoena’s time at the tournament was instructive for the solidity they bring to the team. Pienaar is a central midfielder who is wasted on the wing and Mokoena shines — his blunder against Senegal notwithstanding — when he is playing in central defence.