/ 12 October 2009

Last chance saloon for Santana?

Bafana Bafana need to put things right when they face Iceland in a friendly international in Reykjavik on Tuesday night.

Bafana slumped to their seventh defeat in eight matches since the Confederations Cup in June when Norway beat an unimaginative Bafana 1-0 in Oslo on Saturday.

It was bad enough losing but the way Bafana went down was reason for concern. Coach Joel Santana’s tactics were again negative.

There was no passion or fighting spirit until the end of the match when the coach eventually brought on more attacking players, but as so often in his 16 month reign it was too little too late.

The lynch mob are closing in on the out of touch Santana who has become his own worst enemy and the axe is ready to fall should he fail again in Reykjavik against a side ranked 96th in the world.

The Icelanders thumped Bafana 4-1 the last time they met in their cold capital city in August 2005 and a similar result would be a disaster eight months before the start of the 2010 World Cup finals and end Santana’s tenure.

The Brazilian has 90 minutes to try to save his lucrative R1,4-million per month job when a dispirited Bafana meet a moderate Iceland outfit that on paper should pose few problems to Bafana.

But Bafana’s fall since reaching the semifinals of the Confederations Cup has been alarming.

What was worrying about their most recent match was the fact that Bafana showed little will to win. They only tested Norwegian keeper Jon Knudsen for the first time in the 76thminute. In fact had Norway taken their chances the scoreline could have been embarrassing.

But now Santana is at the crossroads. He must end his ultra defensive tactics where he employs two defensive midfielders which stifles creative players and start being more adventurous and go for goals. This obsession with defence is killing Bafana.

Bafana produced another poor display against an average Norway who failed to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa next June with Bafana players playing with little passion or urgency.

Against Norway both strikers Bernard Parker and Katlego Mphela were passengers for the entire first half. But Santana does not like to take advice and his new bosses at the South African Football Association have warned that his days are numbered should he return home without a win from this two match trip.

However, Santana told the media after the loss to Norway he was not worried about his job. But he should be, as Safa’s three assessors Gavin Hunt, Jomo Sono and Clive Barker are running the rule over this clash against Iceland and will report back with the findings to Safa.

It does not take a genius to work out that Santana has long overstayed his welcome. He has shown repeatedly he is out of his depth at this level. Worse is his inflexibility and stubbornness to change and his tendency to then blame everyone except himself when Bafana do not produce the goods.

However, a loss to moderate Iceland who bottom of their World Cup qualifying group would have the alarm bells ringing loud and clear for the Brazilian’s head. It would surely be the final straw for his bosses at Safa.

Bafana need to improve in every department against Iceland. But it is in midfield where Santana needs to make sweeping changes. Teko Modise is battling but with Everton star Steven Pienaar missing through injury, Santana has little to fall back on in creative players.

Blackburn Rovers Elrio van Heerden is overdue a return to the starting line-up and with newcomer Franklyn Cale the duo would breath some like into the stagnant midfield that has lost their way.

Instead of two defensive midfielders Santana should go for broke and play three strikers. Golden Arrows’ speedy Richard Henyekane should be drafted into help Parker and Mphela.

But Santana is unlikely to change at this stage and fans can brace themselves for another disappointing 90 minutes. — Sapa