Not Over Yet For Toothless Bafana

Shakes Mashaba has been under siege since that failed AFCON campaign in Equatorial Guinea in January.  Before that, the coach was the most celebrated figure in South Africa after getting Bafana Bafana to play an exciting brand of football, and actually win.  The qualifying campaign for that tournament was passed with fying colours, and the nation was one with the team again.

Instead of saying ‘Bafana won’, everyone was saying ‘We won.’  Who can forget the famous dusting off of the head by Shakes Mashaba that went so viral it was bordering on becoming a meme?  Well actually we have all forgotten it.

It has become such a distant memory now because there actually hasn’t been any reason to celebrate as far as Bafana is concerened.  The win in a friendly match against Angola yesterday was the first time we tasted victory since November last year, when we qualified with a game to spare, beating Sudan 2-1 at the Moses Mabhida stadium.  Man, those were the days!

Then Shakes’ popularity suffered a significant blow when he made the mistake of dropping the best player we have, Thulani Serero, for the tournament proper.  It was also in the time of the infamous ban of our second-best player May Mahlangu, and our best goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was also significantly missed at AFCON.  This means we were sans our three best players at the time.

The reason I mention all this is because although things were not going right at the time, I was quiet about it.  I was waiting for this time because this is when we can actually judge Shakes.  His actual mandate only began this past weekend when the qualifiers for the 2017 edition in Gabon kicked off.

So when the squad was named to take part in this, I was actually happy with the personnel.  The coach has finally realised that Itu is the best pair of gloves he’s going to find, and it looks like his relationship with Serero and Mahlangu is on the mend.  My only issue was up front where the only recognised striker was Tokelo Rantie before he decided to practice his conjugal rights at the time of the camp.

Well to be fair, the camp coincided with the man’s wedding and honeymoon.  When that happened, Shakes suddenly panicked because Sibusiso Vilakazi, who is not really an out-and-out striker, was also out injured.  Kermit Erasmus was then called up to replace the AWOL Rantie, but the Pirates forward took to twitter and posted:  ‘I’m not no back up player’ (which makes no grammatical sense but we get it).

This was just uncalled for from Erasmus.  When you are called up for national duty, you go no matter what the circumstances are.  We don’t have time for arrogant players.  I even think Mashaba should have gone for one Lehlohonolo Majoro instead of Erasmus.

For me Majoro is a better marksman and has a good first touch, can play with his back to goal, is accurate, is always at the right place at the right time, and should the team decide to play with more width, he can be that number nine that receives the crosses.  But the the technical team decided to go with Thamsanqa Gabuza, which left me with a dropped jaw.  Gabuza played just over one hour in the league the whole of last season, and although he had a few good games in the Confederation Cup, I don’t think they were merit for a national call-up.

In the game against The Gambia, you could see that the team was trying to go more from the middle of the park and get a few intricate passes laced up.  But this was not working.  Those guys were defending with eight to nine players.

It was so obvious that we needed more wing play and get the ball between the defenders and the keeper.  But we were just too toothless.  There would be no one to meet those crosses in there.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Shakes Mashaba’s selection.  I just think he really struggles to change a game.  The last time I questioned a coach’s tactical approach, I got a not-so-friendly response from Pitso Mosimane so I’m not going to do that.

I think he needs to have players that can change the game on their own.  Playing the same pattern and passage of play the whole game even when it’s not working, is not going to take us anywhere.  I also think that it’s about time Oupa Manyisa is played in his actual position.

I have a huge problem with such a talented playmaker being played out wide.  It’s like playing Xavi, Pirlo, Zidane, or the late Shoes Moshoeu as a winger.  They all lack the pace required to play there, but put them right in the middle of the park and see magic.

I’m also afraid this will limit Oupa’s international career significantly.  Sooner or later he will be dropped because “he’s not performing”.  Just play the man where he’s comfortable.

So since we could not win our opening qualifier against Gambia, which was supposed to be easy pickings for us, we have put ourselves under immense pressure.  Remember only one team from each group will go through to the final tournament, and we still have Cameroon to contend with.  We were supposed to secure 12 points against the Gambia and Mauritania, and at least make sure that if it goes a bit pear-shaped against the Indomitable Lions, we can stand a good chance of qualifying via the best runners up route.

Of course it’s not too late to save our campaign.  We seem to have put things right between the coach and players, so all we now have to do is go away to Gambia and beat them there.  It’s not impossible.

We won matches away the last time out.  It will also help to not magnify Cameroon into something they’re not.  They are not exactly the Cameroon of old.  To be truthful, they have been really pathetic in recent years and we can beat them.

Shakes has his mistakes, but I still think we should give him a chance.  Scoring goals is not his problem.  We have had this problem for the past ten years now.

I always say I’m a South African, and have no choice over which team to support.  I get irked when someone says ‘Do you still support Bafana?’ Like I or they have a choice.  Let us support this team.

Let us keep the faith.  Shakes will get these boys to play.  But I still say our hope for goals is in the name of Majoro.