Saturday’s drab draw at a wet Moses Mabhida threw up a number of worrying issues that contributed to another step backwards for South African football. Baden Gillion
There are a number of issues:
In hindsight Bafana Bafana head coach Stuart Baxter’s decision to have a go at SAFA for choosing Durban as the host city for this clash seems fully justified.
The objective was to play quick and fluid passing football to unlock what was rightly expected to be a hard-to-breakdown Libyan defence.
What do you need to play good football? A decent playing surface and favourable weather conditions is a good start.
So SAFA, on-cue, provided Baxter’s men with a rainy Durban and a badly cutting-up Moses Mabhida playing surface.
No matter what SAFA’s reasons are (finances have been hinted at), the fact that they chose a venue that ended up being a disadvantage to the team is inexcusable.
It’s as if no-one had the common sense to do a simple weather-check in advance. Even worse, it’s as if no one checked the state of the pitch, which made passing that much harder.
It looked as if SAFA didn’t care and were only worried about their pockets.
Sport at an elite level is all about small margins, and in playing against a team like Libya – who we all knew would sit back – Bafana were impacted negatively by the playing surface.
When criticised, Baxter often suggests that his detractors simply “don’t know football”, so maybe he can enlighten us all on the selections he made on Saturday.
First off Baxter selected an out of form Buhle Mkhwanazi as his starting centre-back. Yet at the early stages of the current domestic campaign, Mkhwanazi has looked far from convincing for Bidvest Wits with a number of basic defensive errors.
Baxter has actually managed to choose Mkhwanazi who has been outperformed by teammate Robyn Johannes at Wits this season.
Then to complete his confusing defensive selections Baxter chose Sifiso Hlanti as his left-back – who simply switches off more than he switches on during games.
During Saturday’s game Hlanti – a left-back – was horribly out of position on the right hand side of the Libya’s box before he blasted a shot over the bar.
In my entire time of watching football I have never seen a left-back taking a shot where the right winger should be…and this was not from a set-piece, it was in open play.
As a result of these two selections Bafana fielded a shaky defence that was bailed out by Itumeleng Khune, who made three impressive saves to avoid further embarrassment.
In midfield, Baxter started Dean Furman, who always gives his all but unfortunately looks short of confidence in a Bafana jersey. Furman always seemed to look for the safe option, which further affected Bafana’s ability to unlock Libya’s defence.
Baxter, knowing that he needed to score goals to grab all three points, also decided to select a team without a designated striker. He left out the one player in goal-scoring form, Bradley Grobler.
An admission of his tactical mistake was when Baxter introduced the SuperSport United striker at half-time.
It only gets worse as Vincent Pule (a skillful left-footed wide player), who was called up as a late injury-replacement, went straight into the starting line-up. The front-line was made up of an attacking trio of Pule, Percy Tau (also skillful left-footed wide player) and Keagan Dolly (yet another skillful left-footed wide player).
Was the plan to have the diminutive trio just cross the ball to each other all day?
Baxter has had an indifferent start to his most recent tenure as Bafana Bafana head coach and was once again out-thought by his opposite number.
The lack of player quality has been the most worrying sign in South African football.
I remember a conversation I had with a former PSL assistant coach who bluntly said: “I don’t enjoy my job because the players don’t care at all about training and putting in any effort to improve”.
Said coach, who has since departed to work in China, went on to add that South African players would rather spend their time partying than training.
Having also listened to current players, it is clear that South African soccer players do not put in enough hours on the training pitch. The majority of players do no extra work after training.
A common phrase you’ll hear from current players is “players can’t even do simple passing drills”.
Scoring goals is the one area where South African football struggles most and it requires the most hours of practice. This lack of practice could be a reason as to why we’re so poor at scoring goals in South African football.
This poor attitude is also why most of our players don’t succeed in Europe and always return to the PSL. Our players have the physical attributes and talent needed to be footballers, but in all the other things such as doing extra training, working on decision-making and knowing how to play the game tactically, we fall short.
It’s as if our players are students at high-school level who just show up to an exam without studying.
In this regard, Dolly’s performance for Bafana was the most disappointing thing to watch on as he seemed to not have improved at all – both technically and tactically – from his time in France’s Ligue 1.
Does this show that a player’s improvement is not down to where he plays, but also down to the player himself?
Our national team seems to be filled with players who are either incapable, haven’t been given the right tools with coaching, or simply refuse to better equip themselves.
As a whole Bafana Bafana continue to be in disarray, lost without any direction and drifting further away from world football under SAFA and Baxter.