As the Bafana Bafana players filed out of their Free State Stadium change room on June 22, trying to reconcile, within themselves and to the waiting press, the bittersweet 2-1 defeat of France — a storming result, yet insufficient to stop the team from exiting the World Cup at the group stage — then-assistant coach Pitso Mosimane was contemplative.
He had soaked in the experience of his first World Cup, the tactical configurations of more successful teams and Bafana’s inability to balance defensive organisation and solidity with attacking verve in their first two Group A matches.
Mosimane told the Mail & Guardian: “We need a little bit of exploration and maybe changing the way we want to play to have more power upfront.”
Fast-forward to the second half of Bafana Bafana’s 1-0 victory over Ghana at Soccer City on August 11.
The man nicknamed “Jingles” had begun the match against Ghana with a starting 11 and formation similar to that used against France after then-coach Carlos Alberto Parreira finally conceded that a lone striker up front was not enough: the two defensive midfielders, MacBeth Sibaya and Thanduyise Khuboni, aided by Siphiwe Tshabalala and Steven Pienaar as the creative force feeding twin strikers Bernard Parker and Katlego Mphela.
Impressive in attack
This, detractors might suggest, was Parreira’s team. But then off came Pienaar and Tshabalala, replaced by Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Daine Klate, the former adding defensive bite and organisation in the midfield, thus allowing the latter to push wider and more forward than Tshabalala had been playing. It was not just about the personnel change, though. This was an intimation of a different future for Bafana Bafana — one that would see the team playing 4-3-3.
South Africa looked impressive in attack, creating several chances for Mphela in the first half — one of which he converted in the 41st minute. Pienaar had one of his finer matches in a Bafana shirt and the midfield and strikers were eager defensive instruments: closing the opposition down early and retaining shape and a hard-running attitude.
The changes came at a time when Ghana were gaining momentum in the match and when a flurry of substitutions denuded Bafana of their fluency, but it was instructive.
The Jingles era appears ready to break Parreira’s conservative mould. There are suggestions of an evolution too. This may not be obvious in the senior national first team that will start the qualification journey for the 2012 African Nations Cup against Niger at Mbombela Stadium on September 4. Mosimane is unlikely to overhaul his team for that, given the immense pressure to ensure qualification.
In the run-up to the Nations Cup, the Confederation of Southern African Football Associations Cup and the African Nations Championships will give the nation a real sense of Mosimane’s vision for the future.