The art of goalscoring has been South African football’s Achilles heel. It didn’t look like it was getting any better at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), barring the attacking display shown against Egypt in the last 16. But there are signals that this may change with different pairs of boots and an avant-garde mentality.
Bafana Bafana managed just three goals in five games at Afcon and only managed to net more than once in three of their last 12 competitive encounters. Over the years there has not been a single source of goals the country can bank on in times of need.
But with goals flying in so far during this season’s Premier Soccer League, coach Molefi Ntseki and his strikers are feeling confident.
This is especially so for two of Bafana Bafana’s forwards, Bradley Grobler and Kermit Erasmus, who have both found the net five times for their respective clubs.
“It is something very good for us. Because you have strikers that are scoring, you bring them into the camp. They will have that confidence going into the game against Mali, against Ghana, against Sudan to score goals. Because all that is important is the positiveness to have in yourself as a player to say, ‘I can make it, I can score goals’,” Ntseki said.
This confidence was reflected in the robust attitude Grobler showed during training on Tuesday.
“I’m very happy to be back with the national team. It’s been a frustrating couple of years for me going in and out with injuries and that,” he said.
He offered some insight into the tactics Bafana will use against Mali on Saturday, including getting the quicker players on the ball more often instead of asking them to play off the number nine.
“We had a nice meeting with the coach last night [Monday],” Grobler said. “We watched a few video clips and I think we are fortunate that we have a lot of different players that give us the opportunity to play a lot of different formations.”
At Afcon, Bafana employed a tactic reminiscent of France during the 2018 World Cup. Lebo Mothiba played an almost Olivier Giroud-type of game, which would allow Percy Tau and either Themba Zwane or Thembinkosi Lorch to run off him. It did not bring the same success as the French had in Russia, but the counter-attacks they produced against Egypt were enough to suggest the formation holds the potential to threaten any opposition.
“Watching Afcon, I think Lebo did extremely well and a lot of people may not appreciate what he actually did, but as a player who plays in his position, I understand what he’s done and I think he did extremely well,” Grobler said.
But, this season, Mothiba has failed to find the net in eight appearances for his club, Strasbourg. Although Ntseki is apprehensive about the confidence levels of players who come into the team without scoring, he has kept his faith in Mothiba.
“If you look at Kermit, Bradley and Lebo, they have been doing well for their teams and we are looking to having that positiveness come into Bafana Bafana,” Nsteki said.
That optimistic attitude Ntseki yearns for in attack has been tackled at club level in recent years and, for the SuperSport United forward, it feels like “times are changing”.
“Over the last few years the amount of shooting drills we are doing at training and compared to when I was growing up — there’s definitely a lot more focus on attacking play and getting crosses in. So I think it’s just something we’ve got to keep working on and it’s a good start,” Grobler said.
There is no doubt that the will is present but when chances fall the way of these in-form forwards over the next three international matches, we’ll know whether training ground drills translate into match-situation goals.