/ 15 June 2009

Santana still in dreamland

Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana was again found wanting tactically during Sunday’s disappointing goalless draw against mediocre Iraq in the opening Confederations Cup Group A clash at Ellis Park.

Santana lashed out at Iraq’s tactics, stating: ”Iraq never came to play football. They paralysed the game with their defensive tactics. We dominated but could not score. But that is football.

”They used route-one soccer. I was disappointed they did not try to take a risk and attack us. We had 17 attacks to their three. We wasted all ours. We were never under pressure defensively.”

Santana still does not seem to get the message that goals are what win matches. What was he thinking when he persisted the entire 90 minutes with three defensive midfielders (Kagisho Dikgacoi, Benson Mhlongo and Macbeth Sibaya, who had a brilliant game) and left Teko Modise alone as his creative force in the middle? The Orlando Pirates midfielder struggled on this big stage with little support.

Even an amateur coach could see that it was obvious Iraq had come for a point and to frustrate the host nation. The initiative lay with Santana as the home coach to take risks and, he failed by opting for a measly point that in the end might not be enough to help Bafana into the semifinals.

Both his strikers, Terror Fanteni and Bernard Parker, disappointed against an ultra-defensive side and when Parker did get a chance, he froze. Parker even did the opposite of scoring an own goal when he ”saved” teammate Tsepo Masilela’s goal-bound shot off the Iraqi goalline late in the match to complete a nightmare afternoon.

This was two points lost. And whether Senor Santana likes it or not, it was not good enough against a side as poor as Iraq in the opening of a major Fifa tournament as hosts.

But if Santana’s team does not reach the semifinals of the Festival of Champions, then he could be looking at the Situations Vacant in his local São Paulo newspaper back in his Brazil.

South African fans are unforgiving when a coach gets it wrong the way he did against Iraq, opting for his boring safety-first tactics instead of going for the kill.

Santana is a defensive coach, but what does not make sense is that he stated boldly at the after-match press conference that: ”I studied Iraq and was not surprised by them.”

Then in the same breath he added, ”But I did not think they would defend in numbers like they did.”

Once again it comes down to communication. If even with a translator, Santana’s message to the media is garbled. How on earth are the players expected to understand what he is trying to say? The sad thing is that he had attacking options on the bench, such as Elrio van Heerden and Siphiwe Tshabalala. What was the point of bringing on ”sick” Steven Pienaar for the final six minutes when even the faithful Bafana fans knew that Bafana had again disappointed.

Everton star Pienaar said afterwards that he still felt weak from stomach flu and was not fit to play 90 minutes. For Santana’s sake and that of the country, let’s hope Pienaar is fit to play against the robust New Zealand side on Wednesday.

The draw has put Bafana under pressure to beat the Kiwis in the second Group A fixture at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace on Wednesday night (8.30pm), or face an early exit from the competition. — Sapa