Better buckle down, Bafana

The potential that has been part of the team’s DNA from readmission in the early 1990s.  Burkina Faso may not have the pedigree of the Super Eagles, who beat Bafana 2-0 on Wednesday night, but it is worth remembering that they were the losing finalists at this year’s Afcon.

It will be a tough task for the South Africans. It is not every week that they will play the continental champions and their runners-up all within three days.

The Burkinabe will be formidable foes. They showed in their time here at the beginning of the year that they are a team whose high work ethic befits the Stallions moniker they go by. They were compact at the back and, once in possession, galloped into the opponents’ half with breathtaking speed and fury.

The Stallions’ coach Paul Put brings to South Africa a side brimming with experience and talent. One name South African crowds might want to pay attention to would be that of central defender Paul Koulibaly, who is reportedly joining Orlando Pirates at the end of August.

Whether Bafana coach Gordon Igesund will use the absence of Tokelo Rantie and Dean Furman, who by mutual agreement between all concerned were to be available only for the Nigeria match, to test new talent remains to be seen.

Although replacing Rantie, who is not exactly a mean machine in front of goals, might cause Igesund and the Bafana brains trust to scratch their collective head, they have plenty of options in the Furman role with Buhle Mkhwanazi and Hlompho Kekana the most obvious candidates for filling the vacancy.  

It is a punishing assignment and places a huge demand on the players. The choice of opponents and the timing of the fixture mean that Bafana might be below par and thus lose the opportunity for football to acquire new fans among those who will primarily be at FNB Stadium for the Boks-Argentina clash. That is real potential lost right there.

However, the football match between South Africa and Nigeria at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Wednesday night might provide a solution for the often tense political and business relations between the two leading economies on the continent. 

Instead of sending career diplomats here, Nigeria could consider employing their national team coach, Stephen Keshi, as an envoy — such was the effortless touch of the ever-polite man the Nigerian football fraternity calls “The Boss”. 

Against the Super Eagles, Bafana Bafana looked decidedly like a second-grade side. It was like a fixture between a high school team against the boys’ heroes who play in the top flight — and the level of awe the locals showed towards the Nigerians was similar.

Despite this very apparent gulf in class between the two sides, Keshi’s post-match commentary opted for diplomacy, choosing to describe Bafana Bafana as having “great potential”. He would probably have been correct but undiplomatic had he said: “We totally outclassed them. We played as though we were the home side”.

He could have risked a diplomatic row and suggested to Igesund that he should start thinking seriously about blooding new talent if South Africa is to progress from “having potential” to fulfilling it. 

Instead he spoke of his admiration for former president Nelson Mandela and his record for human rights. Nice touch.

For Bafana, 20 years on and an African Cup of Nations title and two qualifications for the World Cup later, being described as having potential cannot be much of a commendation. If anything, it means the team has regressed somewhat.

It is reasonable to say 23-year-old Thulani Hlatshwayo, who won his fifth cap on Wednesday, has potential but the same cannot be said about the rest of the back five who started with the Ajax Cape Town player. The rest of the defence, including goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, boasted 122 caps between them, with Khune contributing most (57) and his Kaizer Chiefs team-mate, Erick Matoho, the least (6).

Keshi’s international relations spin should not mislead South Africans, considering that his own team’s experience on the night was not too different to the South Africans.

The starting back five of Austin Ejide, Uwa Elderson Echiéjilé, Efe Ambrose, Godfrey Oboabona and Azubuike Egwuekwe shared 143 caps between them.

 In the Bafana midfield of Thuso Phala, Simphiwe Tshabalala, Furman and Reneilwe Letsholonyane, they shared 143 caps between them while the strike pair of Rantie and Bernard Parker combined 70 caps, with the Chiefs’ Parker dominating the experience stakes with 57 appearances for his country. 

Compare this with Nigeria where John Ogu started playing international football this June and had seven caps going into the Mabhida stadium encounter. Ogenyi Onazi will only turn 21 on Christmas Day and already has 14 caps to his name.

The oldest member of the Nigerian playing team was 31-year-old Shola Ameobi, who was used only in the first half before making way for 21-year-old Uche Nwofor, who repaid the coach’s confidence by scoring the goals that sank Bafana. It was his third appearance in the green and white of the senior team.

The best South Africa could do in introducing youngsters to the rigours of international football was in the form of Free State Stars Luyolo Nomandela, who won his first cap. 

Keshi would be on point if he said the Ea Lla Koto winger has potential. The same would also apply to Ajax Cape Town wide midfielder Lebogang Manyama, who showed hunger for the 13 minutes he was on the pitch.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday