Sunday, June 6, 2010

An armchair critic's opinion of Bafana's chances

My first Bafana game was back in 2007 when Zambia beat a struggling South Africa 3-1 at Newlands, Cape Town, in an African Nations qualifier. That was Benni McCarthy's first game back from his self-imposed international wilderness but he seemed powerless to stop the rot. Similarly, the lacklustre 2008 African Nations finals campaign did little to inspire hope that the World Cup host nation were equipped to perform in 2010 and failing to qualify for that year's AFCON was nothing short of disasterous. Last year's Confederations Cup finally offered that glimmer of hope that Bafana fans were craving. On the surface, their tournament record of P5 W1 D1 L3 GF4 GA6 was not encouraging but their performances against Brazil and Spain (the second time around) showed that they could compete far higher than their ranking suggested; the performances of Matthew Booth and Steven Pienaar led the way. The latter half of 2009 seemingly reverted to type as Bafana went on to lose 8 of 9 matches with a 1-0 friendly win over minnows Madagascar the only break in the gloom.

Bafana are now on an 11 game unbeaten streak heading into the World Cup. The stats for this read as P11 W6 D5 L0 GF19 GA3. I'm still concerned about the defensive frailties of captain Aaron Mokoena but only conceding 3 goals is admirable. The nay-sayers would point out that Bafana have been played teams such as Zimbabwe, North Korea and Guatemala. I can't argue with that and the 0-0 draws v Korea DPR (as they apparently like to be known) and Jamaica were unconvincing. Furthermore, although knocking 4 and 5 goals past Thailand and Guatemala respectively was a confidence boost, they are hardly the calibre of opponent that Bafana are going to face in the World Cup.

Yet, the performances against Bulgaria and Columbia, culminating in yesterday's impressive 1-0 win over Denmark have raised expectations. While there are still deficiencies in the squad, they now look a far more accomplished team. Reneilwe Letsholonyane's visionary through-ball carving open the Danish defence was brilliantly finished with Katlego Mphela's near-post strike. Even Teko Modise played fairly well although he missed a sitter of a header in the first. Unmarked and yet he couldn't get it on target. From my seat in the pub, Bafana were the better team and deserved the result.

Two years ago it seemed as if progressing beyond the group was nothing more than a pipe dream. Today, it is a real prospect. France look shaky after their 1-0 defeat to China and while Mexico and Uruguay have fared better, home advantage will be key. Uruguay to win the group with Bafana in second place (meaning that I would be at Bafana's second round match!).

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