Bafana shoots blanks – but fans feel the love anyway

By Ant Sims 9 January 2013

Bafana Bafana lost 0-1 to Norway on Tuesday night, in their penultimate friendly before the Africa Cup of Nations. In front of goal, they were woeful, and while coach Gordon Igesund has his work cut out for him ahead of the continental showpiece, at least he can rest assured that South Africa will seemingly get behind the team, no matter what. ANT SIMS reports from Cape Town stadium.

The narrative surrounding football in South Africa has, since the 2010 World Cup, always been one of bringing people together. Pump Shakira and Freshlyground’s ‘Waka Waka’ over a stereo anywhere and people will drop what they are doing and reminisce about that Siphiwe Tshabalala goal against Mexico in the opening match. 

Even the most staunchly cynical buggers have had their heartstrings tugged by the game, and even when the administration is in a mess so damning that it could put cricket South Africa to shame, whenever Bafana Bafana plays, it’s magical. 

And magical it was at Cape Town stadium on Tuesday night when Bafana Bafana took to the field against Norway for their penultimate friendly ahead of the African Cup of Nations. Even way before kick-off, yellow jerseys were spilling out onto the streets of Cape Town and meandered down to Green Point in the anticipation of a sold-out clash. Hours before the first touch, vuvuzelas reached a crescendo as the players started to make their way onto the pitch for their warm-ups. 

The atmosphere continued to build, like a delicately crafted waltz, and even when the accompanying music for South Africa’s anthem tried its hardest to thunder out the off-key voices, it couldn’t quite get it right. As the anthem reached the climax of “We shall live and strive for freedom, in South Africa our land,” the atmosphere was electric, even if it wasn’t electric enough for Wi-Fi. 

That Bafana Bafana was utterly woeful in front of goal didn’t seem to matter. Fluffing chance after chance seemed to only get the crowd pumped up more, and while coach Gordon Igesund was making himself into a teapot on the touch line, the crowd mimicked his frustration as Norway took the lead in the 41st minute with Bjorn Riise picking up the ball just outside the box and passing it to skipper Tarik Elyounoussi, who tucked it away with ease – where not even spider kid Itumeleng Khune could stop it. 

South Africa should have equalised through Katlego Mphela a few minutes later, but the striker fluffed it and the crowed motioned for a substitute in unison as the referee blew the whistle for half time. 

Igesund said at the pre-match press conference that his defenders hadn’t had much time together, and while it might be a convenient excuse, excuses aren’t good enough with Afcon just around the corner.

Telepathy between the midfield and the strikers was severely lacking, and while the coach promised attacking football, football with flair, Bafana looked more like a deflated balloon in the first half –  being flung around listlessly against a Norwegian side which wasn’t really spectacular itself.

The crowd got their wish shortly after half-time, when Bernard Parker arrived on the pitch to massive applause, but despite his reputation he made little impact. South Africa continued to waste chances and show absolutely zero conviction in front of goal. 

The South African fans wouldn’t let their convocation wane, though, and deep into the second half a group just behind the South African goal had started to lead the rest of the stadium in a stirring rendition of ‘Shosholoza’. Their song faded in and out of tune, but the small group sporting a South African and Brazilian flag never stopped bouncing or clapping.

The second half was much better than the first for Bafana, and Thuso Phala looked to have ignited a spark that was missing in the first half. But missed chances and sheer ineptitude defined the night as the match finished with Norway as winners.

The visitors looked like a side from the lowest ranks of the English league, and while there are certainly some positives to take for Igesund’s men, the negatives far outweigh them.

It’s easy to get romantic about the passion that very clearly runs through South Africa for the national team; the pride, the belief, the hope and to a certain extent, the delusions. But the South African public doesn’t play the game, and with very little time left to whip the team into shape, Igesund must be somewhat worried.  

As the final whistle blew, Reneliwe Letsholonyana dropped to his knees in what was either fatigue or despair, while the small crowd who led the ‘Shosholoza’ choir stayed on and applauded their side off the pitch while the masses dispersed. 

The songs had stopped, but the appreciation was there. And just like the words of one of South Africa’s most recognised songs so poignantly reminded them earlier, Bafana will have to keep push, push pushing on and on, as there’s much to be done. DM

Photo: Gordon Igesund (Reuters)


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