Igesund: Bafana's on the up and up
It was more of the same for Bafana Bafana on Saturday night as wasted chances and impotence in front of the goal ruled their match against Algeria - their final friendly before the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in less than a week.
It wasn't all bad for Bafana, though. They managed to hold Algeria, a team ranked 68 places above them, to a goalless draw. Their failure to capitalise on chances is a concern, but there's no denying that their draw against Algeria was an impressive feat. And Coach Gordon Igesund insists they were playing better than ever.
The main problem seemed to be a desire to show off rather than actually deliver. Kagisho Dikgacoi epitomised South Africa's approach to scoring when he attempted a horrendous bicycle kick, the kind you would expect to whizz in with a combo-sequence on a video game. Instead of simply chesting the ball down and getting a touch on it, Dikgacoi tried to be fancy and failed miserably - and so the game wore on with more of the same expected disappointment from the men in yellow. They created some chances, but couldn't put any of them away.
Still, while the match was difficult to watch - it was roughly stitched together and unravelled far too often - keeping a clean sheet will give Bafana Bafana some hope ahead of their first Afcon match against Cape Verde on 19 January.
Coach Gordon Igesund was, as ever, in good spirits after the game, despite turning the full spectrum of red shades during the match.
"It's going to get better each week. I'm proud of my team," Igesund said.
"They were moving the ball well and controlled 70% of the match against the second best team in Africa.
"The goals I'm not concerned about. They will come, because we are getting better and better. I'm happy because the team is showing the hunger, and you can see their fighting spirit. There was a big difference in how we used the possession better," he added.
Igesund has, since preparation for the tournament began, insisted that the big picture is Afcon - that there should be less focus on the warm-up and friendly results, as these games are simply being used to experiment a little bit and find the right combinations. Whether he has now found those, only the coach will know, but he is certainly projecting a certain level of confidence that the preparation and hard work has been done.
Goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune has also called for support and insists that the side will find its groove when the continental showpiece kicks off.
"We stand a very good chance in the tournament," Khune said.
"We must just start converting the many chances that we create. I believe we have great players that can deliver, and there is no reason why we shouldn't do well. This is a new generation of players who are hungry for success and we have a strong belief in us that we can go all the way."
To think that Bafana might go all the way is stretching it a bit, but at least they know where their faults lie. And while little time is left to complete the finishing touches, they'll also be aware that they need to work on the chemistry, telepathy and communication of the midfield linking up to the players going forward.
The expectations for Afcon, meanwhile, are high. Igesund's mandate states that he has to take the team to at least the semi-finals of the tournament, and while the faith in his team has been endearing, his frustration on the sidelines during the matches has painted a different picture.
Igesund knows what is expected of him, and while he does wax lyrical about the positives the side can take out of the match, the legendary PSL coach is no mug - and he might very well draw from previous magic moments to make it happen.
"I believe this team is capable (of winning the Afcon). Did you think it was possible for Swallows to finish second in the league after the previous season they had two points from 15 games? It can happen and I believe it will happen," Igesund said.
Bafana haven't showed any evidence to reiterate Igesund's belief, of course. But then, Igesund is the expert.
This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.