These 2013 Africa Cup of Nations warm-up games bring back fond memories of South Africa's preparations for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. They are only similar in that South Africa are hosts again. Back in 2010 former coach Carlos Alberto Parreira wanted to excite the fans with a Brazilian style of football to inspire the country, so that even if the result might not go your way, then at least Bafana could still entertain the crowds. The passing to feet, possession football is easier on the eye, but if the opposition is stronger then it can be less effective in gaining positive results. One match which proved the tactic to be naive was the 3-0 defeat against Uruguay.
Here against Norway you could see that current coach Gordon Igesund is trying to change all that and playing a direct game. Sure, he wants to mix it up and pass the ball too, so Bafana were inconsistent. South African supporters love to watch the players entertain, and the problem with a direct approach is that if the result doesn't go your way then you haven't pleased anyone. However it must be understood that Igesund is still training his squad with his style and approach which would take time to adapt to. You can see that the players have not come to grip with the right balance yet, and we need to give Igesund time.
It's a common problem with African teams to get a new coach just before a big tournament, so it's not new for the critics to demand national teams to produce results immediately. The critics want the players to play the ball to feet and on the park, and most of Bafana's moves came from long balls over the top or quick passes direct to the front men Katlego Mphela and Lerato Chabango. It's not pretty football but it seemed to be working with Bafana keeping the Norwegians quiet on one end, and creating two clear opportunities at the other.
In the 16th minute Reneilwe Letsholonyane released Mphela in the box with a crisp pass but the Sundowns striker couldn't finish with his favoured right-boot.
In the 36th minute Thuso Phala burst down the right and sent in a low cross which seemed perfect for Mphela to shoot at amidst a pile-up, but the Sundowns striker was unlucky not to time his run and balance to meet the ball. They were not converted, and in a half of few opportunities you need to take your chances or pay the price.
Most disappointing was not Bafana's approach, but the manner in which they gave away the opening goal to Norway in the 41st minute. They offered Tarik Elyounoussi far too much time and space, Bonghani Khumalo and Sangweni seemingly backing away or ball watching in defence to gift Norway a shot at goal. It was schoolboy defending and you can't afford this at international level. Bafana's defenders need to tighten up, and quick.
If there's any positive from this relapse, it is that the defenders will now have a wake-up call and pull up their socks for when it really counts in the Afcon. No doubt Igesund gave his forces a tongue lashing in the half-time break, and he looked extremely angry at his players even before Norway scored. The word from the touchline is that certain players were not sticking strictly to his positioning, and one wonders how much discipline had cost Bafana in this match.
It is ironic when you consider that Norway coach Egil Olsen was talking about how he prefers his team to play a direct game. A few months ago he even called current England coach Roy Hodgson a revolutionary for teaching this type of game in Norway and Sweden, a type of game which doesn't please lovers of the beautiful style of football. So, some might laugh to call this revolutionary. Yes, it was relatively innovative in Norway in the 70's, but you have to keep up with the modern game.
So, those who might want to praise Norway, actually need to consider that Norway were largely absent and benefitted from the exact same style of play which Igesund was criticised for in this match. That is precisely why the match was not exciting to watch for either team. Yes, Elyounoussi did get forward twice, but Bafana's opportunities were more clear-cut.
To shake things up, Igesund brought on Tukelo Rantjie for Katlego Mphela, with the latter not 100 percent yet, after recently recovering from a long term injury. One of the postives to come out of the game was Thuso Phala's performance, often bursting down the right and it's interesting that he's the player most were surprised to have made Igesund's final squad. So, the coach knows what he's doing.
In the 53rd minute Bernard Parker came on for Lerato Chabango, and you'd think that Parker would normally start with Mphela when the Afcon begins. Yes, Igesund could be experimenting. A minute later, and Bafana came very close to scoring again. First Rantie, then Phala struck at goal as the substitute showed a quick turn of pace to latch onto a ball from Phala and provide a low strike at goal which was parried away. Phala tried to smash in the rebound but his shot was saved by Almenning Jarstein.
In the 57th minute Thulani Serero came on for Siphiwe Tshabalala. Serero is the man who Igesund named as his player to make things happen, and even though he's not fully fit yet, Igesund was willing to take a gamble on his creative abilities. He'd quickly made a few good runs down the middle of the park.
Then Phala again broke through in the 67th minute, and produced an inch-perfect cross for Serero, who was unfortunately already too close to the keeper Jarstein and didn't have any room. All Serero could do was slide the ball directly at the keeper, and his trailing knee resulted in Jarstein requiring treatment on the field.
In the 84th minute Bafana created their best chance, thanks to Serero who tee'd up Phala. All he had to do to cap his performance was choose the corner of the net, but he ballooned it over the bar. A very poor strike at goal, that summed up Bafana's poor night out.