Nuts to critics – Gordon’s in it for the win

He is a lifelong student of horses-for-courses football. With Manning Rangers, a team bereft of skill but huge on work and team ethic, he not only won the inaugural Premier Soccer League title in 1997, but also produced that season's top goal scorer, George Koumantarakis, he whom football connoisseurs refused to give a second glimpse.

At Mamelodi Sundowns, his team made Kaizer Chiefs chase shadows, producing about 40 passes that made his sternest critics, who thought Sundowns boss Patrice Motsepe had made the biggest hiring mistake by making Igesund manager, eat ­humble pie.

Igesund is still the most successful coach in the local league, having won the league with four different sides and of differing pedigrees and resources. To illustrate the point, one of the teams he led to the championship, Orlando Pirates, is contesting the last eight of the CAF Champions League while another, Santos, is hoping to return to top-flight football next season.

So the cries by the media and the football public that Bafana Bafana's 2-0 win last week against Lesotho was "not impressive" should be water off a duck's back for the well-schooled gaffer. Igesund has never pretended that his mission is not to win games, rather than pleasing the critics hankering for romantic football.

This weekend, he will set his sights on securing three points from the match against the Wild Beasts of the Central African Republic (CAR), which will take place in neighbouring Cameroon. A week later, on the day South Africa celebrates Youth Day, Igesund's men will be in Ethiopia, where South Africans will be hoping Bafana Bafana can wrest a point, at the very least, from their hosts.

CAR citizens
That CAR will be playing without the home advantage they were due, thanks to the upheaval in their country, is significant. The match against CAR will now be played about 800km from the CAR capital city, Bangui, a distance roughly equal to that between Cape Town and Grahamstown.

Unlike in Europe, where the vastness of distance is mitigated by an easily accessible public-transport system, Africa does not have such infrastructure. The CAR players and technical team will be hoping that there will be enough CAR citizens living in Yaounde – like former president Francois Bozize, perhaps, who fled to Cameroon after he was toppled – to give the team a semblance of a home game.If there are not, it will mean that the Wild Beasts will miss out on the 12th man that is patriotic home support.

In a game where so much is at stake, the next fortnight will be crucial to South Africa's quest for their fourth Fifa World Cup appearance.

Matters are, however, not entirely in Bafana Bafana's hands. South Africans will be hoping that neighbour Botswana beats or at worst does not lose in Gaborone this weekend to Ethiopia, who lead the group by a two-point margin.

South Africans will also pray that stability has returned to Bangui by September, when the next round of fixtures is played, so that Ethiopia might be denied the psychological advantage of not having to play before a hostile CAR crowd.  

Appreciating the task ahead and the limited period the coach has to fine-tune his team, it becomes clear that the commentary after the Lesotho match was unfair to Igesund.The encounter in Setsoto Stadium was not meant to be an exhibition of the game's finer points. It was to reassess where the side is since it last played in March, to see how the squad would fare in the absence of what would have been his first-choice team, while ensuring that the players are not burnt out by the time they face Ethiopia, especially after the long season they have had in the PSL.

In Igesund's favour is that the squad given a run against Lesotho did not let him down. Pirates winger Tlou Segolela, who has made flattering to deceive into an art form, raised his hand in the absence of SuperSport United-bound Thuso Phala.

Segolela's two goals against Likoena – one a simple tap-in that even his grandmother could have scored, and the other a beautiful half-turn-and-shoot using his weaker left foot – mean that the coach cannot pretend that the Pirates winger is a mere ­contingency plan.

While Segolela saw little game time under Roger de Sa at Pirates, Phala was one of the players of the season, running down the right flank and scoring vital goals that led to his Platinum Stars recording their best season ever by finishing second.

With two more group matches to play (excluding the Yaounde fixture), South Africans hoping for pretty football are demanding too much.

As fate would have it, they are barking up the wrong tree, for as affable as Igesund is, he has over the years shown himself to be a practical man through and through.

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