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Durban’s newly built Moses Mabhida Stadium—with its arch resembling an engorged Y-front—appears to be the local government equivalent of penile insecurity purchasing a flashy motor car.

A R3.2billion exercise in overcompensation to help forget inadequate service delivery. A monument to developed world pretensions completely oblivious to developing world realities. And wholly congruent with the grandiose self-appraisal that city leaders such as municipal manager Mike Sutcliffe have of themselves and their roles.

But it is a magnificent stadium.
A stadium of contradictions, then, which proved perfectly apt for Bafana Bafana’s schizophrenic performance in a friendly against Zimbabwe on Wednesday night.

The 3-0 scoreline, after second-half goals from Siphiwe Tshabalala, substitute Thulasizwe Mbuyane and left-back Lucas Thwala, flattered a home side that struggled to find rhythm in the first 45 minutes.

South Africa’s passing was as stray as a pack of township mutts and their attacks petered out with regularity. Their best—and only—first-half chance fell to captain Teko Modise in the 33rd minute, when his thunderbolt from outside the box drew a fine save from Zimbabwe’s Tapuwa Kapini. This after Katlego Mphela had broken down the left and centred for an onrushing Gert Schalkwyk who, drawing the last defender with him, intelligently dummied the ball to set it up for Modise, who was rushing through on the blindside.

But Zimbabwe had, marginally, the better of the half—which was soporific stuff at best—with Kaizer Chiefs hitman Knowledge Musona looking dangerous. Part of Bafana’s incoherence stemmed from debutante Thanduyise Khuboni of La-montville Golden Arrows acclimatising to the volante or “rudder” role at the base of midfield in front of the back four. While he grew in stature as the match went on, Khuboni’s one-dimensional passing and inability to orchestrate moves from deep affected the team’s fluency, especially in the first half.

In his post-match analysis, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira conceded that the team gave the ball away “naively” (about 25 times in the first half by his count) and suggested that some players, such as midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane, were struggling to grapple with the slick pitch.

Parreira said Khuboni had “sacrificed himself for the team” with his screening efforts that “gave balance to the defence”. True, but it doesn’t solve one of the team’s glaring inadequacies: when playing with a midfielder more predisposed to destruction than construction, the team often lacks creative impetus.

Four months before World Cup kick-off, it is perhaps imperative for Parreira to use the upcoming training camps in Brazil and Germany to mould a midfielder into a combination of Claude Makelele’s tactical nous and discipline, but with the passing ability of a Neil Tovey or a Doctor Khumalo. 

Bafana were workmanlike and satisfactorily more cohesive in the second half—especially after Tshabalala’s 25m goal from a free kick helped settle the team early on.

They also appeared to be following orders more closely and scored from a wonderful passing move that highlighted the pure pleasure Bafana can bring to fans when they find themselves on the pitch.

The 3-0 victory was a culmination of a 12-day pre-World Cup training camp, which also saw Bafana drub Swaziland 6-2 in a practice match at Chatsworth Stadium last weekend.

Ever the pragmatist, Parreira played down attempts to read too much into the final scorelines from the two matches. He also said that although the camp and matches were useful in getting to know young players in the local premier league—both in terms of ability and attitude—he would be able to establish a median of what their capabilities are only after more games in Brazil when the team goes on a training camp in March.

Parreira, who will be jetting off to scout South Africa’s overseas-based players this weekend, also voiced his concern that “of the 28 or so players overseas, it’s very disappointing that only one or two are playing regularly”.

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist.His areas of interest include social justice; citizen mobilisation and state violence; protest; the constitution and the constitutional court and football. Read more from Niren Tolsi

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