Despite South Africa losing 0-1 to Norway in a friendly match on Tuesday, coach Gordon Igesund believes the team is improving. He’s particularly chuffed with the way they’re creating chances, even if they can’t put any of them away. By ANT SIMS.
As the cliché goes, the goal of football is to get the goal in the back of the net. It’s mostly repeated by pundits who don’t necessarily know what they’re talking about, and yet it’s a little phrase we’d do well to whisper to Bafana Bafana’s coach Gordon Igesund.
On Tuesday, his side lost to a Norway team that hardly had any of its star players there, and the final third was a catastrophe for South Africa. Their ability to pass the ball to the opposition for no apparent reason plagued them; they were caught napping at the back, and Norway scored the only goal of the match.
Bafana looked much better in the second half, but was still severely lacking up front. There was no vigour, no fire, no conviction. Instead, it was all a rather dull mess in front of the goal.
Although Igesund admitted that there was something missing and that the side needed to improve slightly, he insisted that the chances the side created were good and that their performance against Norway was much better than he had seen the team play in the last few months.
“It wasn’t like we just missed chances on Tuesday. We created those chances and we got ourselves into situations where we had good opportunities. What is important is that we’re creating these chances. I’m not too worried about it at the moment; it’s something we’ll work on and it’s something we’ll get right,” Igesund said.
Creating chances was something Igesund emphasised, as if it were something South Africa had battled with significantly in the past. Igesund insisted on focusing on the positives in the game: the possession, and pressing forward. He insisted the team was changing and coming into its own.
“The team is definitely improving; anybody who watched the game tonight could see that,” he said. “I’m happy with the way we played, but I also know there are a lot of areas we need to improve on. Our build-up at the back wasn’t quick enough and we made too many sideways passes and when we threw everything at it with having three up front, we didn’t have that bit of luck we needed.”
He added: “I think we were a bit unlucky to an extent. We had 68% possession, but we need to learn to use that better. We kept on going sideways, and that’s something we have two weeks to work on. I think people saw a big difference tonight compared to the last time they saw the team play.”
Ironically, at one stage Igesund threw the kitchen sink at the problem, taking off a defender in the final minutes of the game. He went for three strikers up front, but even with that formation, Bafana was still completely impotent in front of goal. Yet the coach only hinted at the fact that his charges struggled to string passes together adequately.
Meanwhile, there are just nine days left before Afcon kicks off, and South Africa has just one friendly left to test its resolve.
Those who watched Bafana play on Tuesday may have a sinking feeling that more of the same will be dished up when Afcon swings into town. And it’s bad news for the coach, who is expected to take the team to at least the semi-final of the competition.
Whether he is concerned about the expectations resting on him or not is another story, though. He insisted in the lead-up to the friendly against Norway, as well as after the loss, that beating a top-ranked side would mean nothing if his team didn’t perform at Afcon.
“We’ve got to see the big picture and got to look at a lot of the different situations in the game. We’ve got time still to make sure we are ready for the Nations Cup,” said Igesund.
Time they have, yes, but not much of it. South Africa has managed to find the back of the net seven times in its last six matches, three of those goals coming in one game against Malawi. The team has gone goalless four times in seven matches, and lost every single time in those clashes.
A big task awaits Igesund’s men before their biggest test since the 2010 World Cup – only this time, there won’t be as many people watching. Which, given the recent signs, may be a very good thing. DM
Photo: Gordon Igesund looks on before a media briefing where he was later announced as the new head coach of the South African national soccer team in Johannesburg, June 30, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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