Sunday, February 3, 2013

How hosts South Africa were embarassed by Mali

The first 45 minutes of the quarter-final at Moses Mabhida Stadium were the best football Bafana Bafana ever played since time immemorial. It looked like a solid game-plan. As it turned out, it was a fluke.

Champions in 1996, runner-up in 1998, quarter-finalists in 2000 and first-round participants in 2002, South Africa hosted a tournament they have not been part of for over 10 years. By the inverse proportioning the events, they reached the quarter-finals of Afcon 2013, they will be in the semi-final in 2015 and eventually win it in 2017.

Currently tagged perennial failures, Bafana Bafana surprised many by progressing past the first stage. That shock success came courtesy of an unbelievable 2-0 victory over Angola and draws against Cape Verde and Morocco.  

It has been proved how good the hosts were, given a false sense of security that the Islanders were a piece of cake. Cape Verde are probably the team of the tournament, given their other performances against Morocco, Angola and Ghana. They had eliminated Cameroon.

South Africa had enough manpower playing behind the ball and accelerating forward to attack. They employed this with and without the ball. This afforded them in equal proportions the liberty to attack and defend in numbers comfortably.

Scoring opportunities were created in a flurry of movements into the attacking third and penalty box in good measure. The composure and finishing put to waste the tactical advantage realised by the sound orchestration of offensive behaviour.

South Africa‘s tournament ended with a half-time whistle. With those fluffed chances gone begging, one assumes the coach in the dressing room had good words and praise for creating them. With that pat on the back, that was the last participation by the hosts.

Mali came in the second half getting the ball and sitting on it. They utilised the spaces every time they were invited by Bafana, which was too often for the West Africans to fully and comprehensively punish Bongani Khumalo and his troops.

That was a great piece of coaching in terms of playing hosts who were spurred by a vociferous crowd. It ensured the ground was even by eliminating the participation of the player number 12. As soon as the stakes were even, it was game on as they pushed to even out the score-line, which they did with a lot of ease.

A ball to the left wing took the right back out of the equation, drew both central defenders out position and attracted the left back into a situation where he could not make his mind to mark the man in front or behind him. In all their numbers, they ball-watched, giving their backs to the most treacherous situation.

As all this was happening, Seydou Keita trotted to the central attacking position to nod past Itumeleng Khune unopposed. Khune could have come out for the cross but he stayed rooted to his line rendering himself useful to a ball headed downwards with power.

Mali relaxed more and slowed down the match after their equaliser knowing the hosts would be frustrated chasing shadow and the fans would be agitated by lack of action. That is exactly the script for the rest of the match and extra time.  

The amateurish conclusion to the Bafana campaign left a huge lump in the throat of all South Africans. There is no doubt of the progress Bafana made throughout the 2013 Afcon and hopefully they will get the basic defending principles in place for the Brazil 2014 Fifa World Cup.

The nation is nursing a long hangover that may last the whole month, for some the whole year.