Bafana's African dream all but over

Bafana Bafana’s African dream is all but over—and head coach Joel Santana is in denial.

Their hopes of reaching the final qualifying round for the 2010 Africa Nations Cup lay in tatters after their disappointing 0-0 draw against lowly Sierra Leone in a crucial Group Four qualifier at Atteridgeville’s Super Stadium on Saturday.

Santana said he did not feel any pressure—but he should. Instead, afterwards he ranted on about his 25 years as a coach and said: “I analyse my team ... you [the media] see it differently.”

When asked why he played two defensive midfielders, Kagiso Dikgacoi and Macbeth Sibaya, in a home game that Bafana simply had to win, Santana said it was to counter the “dangerous” Sierra Leone forwards.

He must have been dreaming or watching a different game.
In the two games Bafana have played, the Leone Stars never looked like scoring in 180 minutes of football.

Bafana were stunned into a 1-0 defeat by Sierra Leone in Freetown last weekend after they won via a penalty. The Sierra Leone players were outclassed at the Super Stadium, but the team ranked 163rd in the world do not possess any dangerous forwards.

In fact, Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune did not have to make a difficult save in either game.

Both Dikgacoi and Sibaya did little wrong, but this match screamed out for an attacking approach, not a cautious one.

When things were going wrong at half-time, Santana failed to make changes. It took him 62 minutes to take off the badly off-form and injured Terror Fanteni, who took the field with a groin injury, and another eight minutes to bring on striker Lerato Chabangu. Too little, too late.

Bafana need a miracle to reach the final phase to qualify for Angola in 2010. They host group leaders Nigeria at home in September and end their campaign away to Equatorial Guinea in October.

They needed to win this match to stay in the chase to qualify for the next qualifying round. The 12 group winners and eight best runners-up go forward. At this stage Bafana are out of the picture.

Santana said that he told his players after the match that he “was very disappointed”. He also criticised Sierra Leone for their negative tactics.

He said: “Only one team tried to win this game. Only one team tried to score. Sierra Leone also annoyed me by falling on the pitch every time they were tackled. We tried hard to score but it was one of those days.”

Santana did admit his players were nervous and it showed in their performance, especially in front of goals.

But what did he expect—Sierra Leone to roll over? Leone Stars coach Achmet Kanu countered by saying that as South Africa were the home team, they were expected to make the running and push his side, which they failed to do. He came for a point and succeeded against the odds.

Bafana skipper Aaron Mokoena was more realistic than his coach. Said the Blackburn Rovers defender: “We have made it difficult to qualify for Angola. But we have not lost hope. I believe it will go to the last game to decide who goes through to the next phase. We, as players, are bitterly disappointed but have not given up. We must stick together as a team and country.”

All credit to Sierra Leone, who stuck to their game plan and frustrated Bafana.

Kanu was delighted taking four points off Bafana. He said: “It was up to Bafana to come at us. My boys were superb in containing South Africa. Our game plan was simple—to frustrate Bafana and get a point. We succeeded.

“I am in charge of a young team and we did not have any friendlies before we started the qualifiers earlier this month. We have four points and a 50% chance of qualifying for the next round.

“I must credit to my team, especially my defenders, for containing South Africa. At the end, we might just have stolen three points.”

Santana’s bosses at the South African Football Association must be worried sick with the 2010 World Cup and the Fifa Confederations Cup around the corner.

Bafana, world champions Italy and the six continental champions compete in the Confederations Cup next June, which will be used as mini dress rehearsal for the World Cup.

One fan summed it up after the game: “If we cannot beat Sierra Leone at home, then who can we beat?”—Sapa

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