Bafana should put the champagne on ice

Lelo Mzaca.

Although it’s against my religion, I can bet my last cent that I was not the only one who was scared witless for Bafana Bafana ahead of their game against Brazil in Sao Paulo.

It was their first game under Coach Gordon Igesund, and on the day he proved that he is a man of his word. Despite going into the game with a limping squad that was missing some top-drawer players due to injury, he still played attacking football and made sure David took the fight to Goliath.

Bafana, who have never made it past the first round of a FIFA World Cup, managed to hold and frustrate the five-time world champions on home soil for 75 minutes.

The contest, which was expected to be one-way traffic like a street in Pretoria, was tight enough to prompt the home fans who packed the Morumbi Stadium to start booing their star-studded side.

The jeers continued even after that monster of a man, Hulk, scored the only goal of the match to save the Samba Boys some pride.

Igesund lauded his players for the way they stood toe-to-toe with the giants of South American and world football.

“It was a tough match and one we did not deserve to lose. I am not happy with the results but satisfied with the performance of the players after we had only four training sessions together. It was important for us to play such a great team and we can take a lot of out this match. I am proud of these players,” said Igesund.

“We took them on in their backyard and had them rattled, but were unfortunate not to come out with a win. We showed a lot of character, had passion in our play and displayed a lot of fighting spirit. But we should not get ahead of ourselves, there is a still a long way to go as this is part of preparations for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.”

A number of Bafana players resembled frontline foot-soldiers who showed some flashes of brilliance.

Itumeleng Khune was so good on the day that his acrobatic and sometimes miraculous saves were enough to send Moeneeb Josephs back to retirement. However, Igesund quickly mitigated that situation by giving Josephs the goal-post duties in a match against Mozambique four days later.

Punch Masenamela really punched above his weight by containing Neymar, similar to the way James Small defused Jona Lomu’s notorious attack during the 1995 IRB Word Cup final at Ellis Park.

Before the naming of the squad, Igesund made it clear that players need to prove their worth and form to be selected and to become regulars in the national team.

“Players need to fight for their places in the team. That is the bottom line. Players need to fight and be competitive and know that this team is the national team! Nobody is guaranteed a place. They have to perform week-in and week out. They have to create that fighting spirit amongst themselves. When I announce this team I’m hoping that after training the players rush to the internet to see if they have been picked, not turn-up at my camp on Sunday assuming that they are in the team.”

There were some weak links who looked like they should face the chop and be sent back to the wilderness of club football.

Former Bafana vice-captain Siphiwe Tshabalala played like he left his BMT (big match temperament) at Soccer City’s change room on the 11th of June 2010. His ball wasting rate was so high, Bafana could have well been playing with 10 men… or 9 if you’d consider Benni McCarthy’s second coming that lasted only 15 minutes.

The experienced but now overweight striker made a short appearance in his 80th game in national colours before he was stretchered off because of a hamstring injury… get it “Ham”-string.

At the airport some commentator was overheard saying Benni should be given a break, another replied that he has already had a break, and a Kit-Kat, and a Bi Mac, and a milkshake, etc.

There is no doubt that Bafana are a rejuvenated team. They played with conviction even when they beat what some may argue as a weakened Mozambique side 2-0.

The players played with heart and even though they lost to the fifth best team in the world in Igesund’s first match at the helm, one can’t help but feel that there is hope that Bafana can raise again.

It’s undeniable that Bafana put on a spirited performance both in Sao Paulo and even in Nelspruit.

Their loss in Brazil was celebrated by many football-loving South Africans and even applauded by some fans in Brazil; however this has got me thinking…

About two weeks before Bafana played in Sao Paulo, the Springboks touched down in Argentina to take on the Pumas in front of a capacity crowd in Mendoza.

Yes, the Pumas are not by a long shot world beaters yet they managed to hold the two-time world champions to a 16-16 draw.

The fact that the Boks were lashed for coming back home with a dreadful draw in South America while Bafana, which means boys,  were praised for only losing by one goal to Brazilian is a sure indicator of just  how low the public expectations of this team really are.

It’s way too early to celebrate, and Gordon Igesund and his team need to come back to earth and realise that, in order for them to graduate to manhood, they still have a mountain to climb.

Lelo Mzaca is an Eyewitness News Journalist.