Shakes Mashaba and Bafana Bafana are still very much in their honeymoon phase, but for once the talk of new eras and taking in positives isn’t just empty rhetoric. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Modern sport rarely allows for honesty from players and coaches. All and sundry are media-trained to within an inch of their lives. That sort of training often programmes everyone involved to become robotic and boring and, to an extent, lose a sense of perspective regarding the shortcomings of their team.
During Gordon Igesund’s time as Bafana coach, it became painful. Nobody begrudges those in charge looking for the positives, but to do it to the extent of denial is frustrating and can irk the public because it suggest that they are fools. Bafana’s new coach, Shakes Mashaba, has no time for that sort of thing. Despite the fact that he finds himself in the rare position where the national soccer team has surprised everyone and exceeded expectations, Mashaba is under no illusions as to the challenges that lie ahead and that there are still some elementary deficiencies in the side.
Bafana Bafana find themselves in the unexpected position of being close to qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco next year. Having beaten Congo-Brazzaville over the weekend, the return leg on Wednesday could see them qualify for the African showpiece. But coach Shakes Mashaba doesn’t beat around the bush. While South Africa might be winning and keeping clean sheets, he’s not taking his foot off the gas.
“This result has led us to the good and the bad – players, when they have taken a lead, showboat and it’s a tough thing to get it out of them. They are booming with confidence and it nearly cost us,” Mashaba said.
“If it was not for Senzo [Meyiwa], Congo would have scored a goal or two. We are not going to change much for the return leg. We will approach them with the same strategy and ensure we don’t concede early on.
“Also, we need to guard against complacency. Playing at home is also not a luxury anymore, as the players become more under pressure from the fans and end up making mistakes – no freedom of expression.
“But I believe it’s a plus to us having played three tough games without conceding. It is another way to show that the team is working together,” he added.
It seems clear that there is a synergy between Mashaba and the powers that be in how exactly to move the team forward. As the sage who knows exactly what has made the younger players tick over the last few years, Mashaba has been trusted to bring change without the pressure of a mandate hanging over his head. It has allowed him to nurture some of the younger players and, despite the fact that they have been thrown into the deep end, still get the best out of them.
Sibusiso Vilakazi made his debut for South Africa last year and has since played five games for the country. He’s one of the players who, under Mashaba’s guidance, as blossomed in a very short space of time. From the outside looking in, it also seems as if though Mashaba has brought back some semblance of pride associated with playing for the national team.
“It’s exciting that we have guys who are willing to die for the team. We want to go down in history and be the guys who changed the situation which at the moment we are trying to do,” Vilakazi said before their weekend clash.
While dying for the team might be a slight exaggeration, but there seems to be a clear shift in thinking-direction. The team has been a national embarrassment for long enough and it’s up to this group of hand-picked players to change all of that.
“We are trying to climb the ladder in Africa as well. We have a good coach as well, pushing us to do our best. It’s all about trying to do well and getting the result. We have the motivation and spirit to want to do well.”
“It feels good having people believing in you and they are able to see that you want to make that difference. We will take it one game at a time. We want to win games which is the most important thing. We can’t have a team saying we are bringing change when the results aren’t going our way,” Vilakazi added.
While it’s far too early to start hailing this as a new era in South African football and Bafana and their new coach still very much in their “honeymoon phase”, for once, taking the positives doesn’t seem like empty rhetoric.
“It’s a combination of things because when you play good football without scoring it doesn’t help, but you can also play bad and get three points.
“But here we have combined the two because the boys are playing good football, it’s been quite a while since I last saw our team playing such good football,” Mashaba said. DM
Photo: Shakes Mashaba (eNCA)