/ 19 June 2009

Bafana, pull up your socks some more

Joel Santana probably still has a throbbing headache despite his team romping to victory over New Zealand on Wednesday. The 2-0 win over the All Whites sent the nation and Bafana Bafana into wild celebrations and buried memories of the uninspiring opening match against Iraq last Sunday.

Santana was showing signs of frustration from the sidelines against the All Whites. Had Santana had his way he would have put three or more goals past New Zealand goalkeeper Glen Moss. On the night, Bafana were marvellous to watch, getting almost everything right and creating a number of scoring opportunities but, sadly, failing to convert most of them.

Bernard Parker made up for his accidental blunder against Iraq when he cleared Kagiso Dikgacoi’s header off the line by scoring a brace. But Bafana still lacks firepower in front of the goals. Katlego Mashego was the main culprit.

Gavin Hunt, the SuperSport United coach, says Mashego should have been the competition’s leading goal scorer after the All Whites match. ”Opportunities like those don’t always come your way. It will boil down to goal difference on Saturday. Bafana Bafana should expect a tough encounter and should play their own game if they want to win.”

Gordon Igesund, South Africa’s only coach to win the league title with four different teams, offered some reprieve for the embattled striker. He warned Santana against writing off the Orlando Pirates hit man. ”Mashego is a good player who does well to get into spaces but he needs to time his runs. He is a better player than Thembinkosi Fanteni, who never got into the areas where Mashego found himself.”

Going into Saturday’s match against Spain in Bloemfontein the chances that went begging might count against Bafana. As things stand, should Iraq beat New Zealand on Saturday and Bafana lose against Spain, the second-place spot for the semis will have to be decided on goal difference.

Though the European champions have already qualified for the semis after beating the All Whites 5-0 and a stubborn Iraq 1-0, they will not make things easy for Bafana.

Spain have not been beaten since November 2006, matching the record of 14 straight victories held by Australia, Brazil and France. They are just one match away from equalling the 35-match unbeaten run by Brazil between 1993 and 1996, a feat they are eager to achieve.

Igesund said: ”We still have a tough task against Spain because we have to pick up a point or beat them to advance to the semis. Bafana should have scored three or more goals. I think goal difference will play a big part in the end, hence it is important to score goals. The good thing is that we created a lot of scoring opportunities on the day.

”Bafana’s passing was nice and slick. Parker, Tsepo Masilela and Steven Pienaar were excellent on the night. The boys should go into the Spain match with the same tempo. The Spanish defenders like going forward and we need the left- and right-wingers to capitalise on this.”

With the support Bafana will get from the passionate Free State fans, the Spanish record could well be broken on Saturday evening. The gap between the top teams is also not that wide. Neil Tovey, the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations winning captain and AmaZulu coach, concurs. ”Bafana played well against New Zealand and we should have the same approach against Spain.

”The workrate of the players will count on Saturday. The players should take shots at goal like they did on Wednesday, which was a first in a very long time. If Bafana Bafana play like they did on Wednesday, then we have chances of progressing to the semis,” said Tovey.

And Santana should make the right changes this time around. Fanteni should make way for Mashego, who would also do well to put on his Orlando Pirates scoring boots. Teko Modise should continue playing his own game but stop demanding every ball to be passed to him. There are 11 players on the field.

The utmost support will be there and it’s now up to Bafana to make us proud.