Sunday, January 20, 2013

Decision-making pathetic at AFCON 2013

The African game currently displayed on the South African shores is exposing worrying trends of how much retarded the continental game has been since the turn of the century. It could be how much faster the world developed leaving Africa behind. Compare that with the 20 minutes display Arsenal played against Chelsea in the second half. It was the Gunners’ best football in over five years but it lasted 20 minutes.

Just before the beginning of the 2013 AFCON, South Africa fired blanks and hope was that things would pick up on the opening match of the tournament. They were sterile once more and to find the spot, maybe they need a GPS.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s TP Mazembe were at different level a few years back, reaching the Fifa Club World Cup final. In a viral post I did about their adventure, I labelled them as the real deal. African football was supposed to be on the rise but what happened? TP Mazembe seems to have not filtered down or maybe swam upstream to the national team. They looked at home when they played the world’s best in that final at the United Arab Emirates.
The South African 2013 AFCON has so far produced a stalemate between the hosts and the tournament ‘minnows’, Cerpe Verde. The next match saw four goals as Ghana and DRC shared the spoils. Again, one needs to look at the Manchester United versus Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 draw, basically when the ball is passed and where it goes.

What has been a glaring truth is how much regressing the game has been. For entertainment, maybe there was something to cheer in the four goals scored in Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Stadium. Except for playing by heart, DRC offered nothing at all, neither did the over-rated Ghana.

In the matches played so far, technically and tactically, this has been a sorry site and with common these trends, there is a lot to see. The standard of the game that is worrying extends to the psychological aspect, besides the technical and tactical awareness. The Central African nation depended much on counter-attacks, badly executed by wrong choices and losing of momentum.

The biggest problem is the decision-making. Africa is miles, thousands of miles away. When to and not to pass tops the list. Hanging on the ball too long and less often, playing too early need addressing so badly. There were moments where both teams were guilty of carrying the ball and then slowing down until defenders made recovery runs and retrieved the ball.

The poor decision making can be due to a few problems. The triggers that must come from supporting players are themselves either wrong or badly timed. Even then, one would expect to get one aspect right and then work on the other. Either way, the coaches are responsible for recognising and rectifying these.

Where there is a reasonable quality level of triggers and their timing, the passing quality and choices have been out. The extension of the problem automatically becomes the ball reception. The positive first touch is never a strong African attribute, but these teams have professional players.

It must be understood that some factors contributing to the technique is the quality of the above issues, but the decisions of the receiver, regardless, have been pathetic. Namely, the choice of the part of the foot to use among other things leaves a lot to be desired.

I will try to explain the point of a trigger. If one has to make a pass, there has to be a reason why that pass is played. It could be into space which teammates must create, to the feet of one who indicates or is positioned to receive or to a running player, in which case the decision still has to be made as to how close to feet the ball is played or how far into space ahead of the running player.

Many times, these can be predictable and it is not rocket science. Tactically aware players and teams have the understanding that certain events will follow a pattern which must be trained upon. The movements and timing become a little synchronised.

This is the big draw back in the African game. There is no harmony or synchronisation of anything. At higher professional levels, that is what coaches work on. African players plying their trades overseas know and use these methods daily.

The Mali and Niger match was an improvement to the first two matches but there is a lot of work to be done. The decision-making consistently lacked but was a little better. It could have been a fluke that a few things seemed right.

The match was obviously scrappy and no flow at all, but the efforts to decide on time and execute well was visible. By half-time, there was no shot on target. The two teams are tactically above what has been witnessed so far and cancel each other effectively. It takes a genius touch and approach to separate good organisation.

While Mali were superior in many ways, Niger had the commitment to fight for each other and getting first to the ball. They fought for the second balls and tried counter attacking. They were guilty of tough and late tackling, again, a decision-making issue.

When and where to tackle and how may be the problem African club coaches have to address, but a lot of these players come from big leagues. It boils down to the national team coaches being unable to diagnose and prescribe proper training sessions to deal with it.

If one asks me, these are the very issues national team coaches must address, but remember who hires them; laymen. Many times, Niger shot at goal desperately from distance when there were better options for an extra pass or space to attack. The anxiety reflected on the abilities or lack of, of the mentors.

Interesting enough, Mali withdrew into a cocoon while Niger settled and began to pass the ball. The lack of rhythm of these events shows that they just occurred by chance. Self-confidence and suddenly found belief can catalyse the reactions, both mentally and physically.

Mali got on the score sheet at a time they pressurised the naive Niger who were a little immature by depending on sporadic raids. Seydou Keita had hit the posts twice but managed to tuck in a loose ball fluffed by the goalkeeper. It was the first three pointer match and fittingly so. That goal was a result of bad decision making by the goalkeeper. He could have punched that ball.
Niger's undoing was the less than enough utilisation of opportunities that befell them. They really got a lot of things right, better than Ghana and DRC combined, yet they have nothing to show for it. That is the sad state of African football, but I will not crucify the continent’s game yet, given there is much room for improvement.