Bafana Bafana stepped onto the Cape Town Stadium pitch with their coach’s promises for a fast-paced attacking performance still ringing in everyone’s ears. But what was to come was nothing short of a disappointment from the 16 players employed during the friendly against a disciplined and direct Norwegian outfit.
It was a night of maybe’s and missed opportunities for Bafana Bafana. Katlego Mphela, clean through on goal and on his favoured right-foot, just couldn’t apply that killer touch we all know he does possess. Lerato Chabangu was largely absent during proceedings and did not show the potential he has to create goals with slick combination play. Simphiwe Tshabalala looked tactless and wasteful in possession and would have been one of the most disappointed players after his lacklustre performance.
Yeye and Dikgacoi tried admirably to control the midfield, but the Norwegians were consistenly snapping at their heels with some good closing down in their own half. The engineers in the middle of the park could not provide slick build-up play, often resulting in hopeful long-balls being sent forward. It was not a distinguished performance by Dikgacoi who was quiet throughout his time on the pitch.
Bafana could not break through a brick wall created by Norway’s defence, which Igesund commented on during his post-match speech, "They had their whole eleven players defending in their half, so it was hard to break them down."
It was not all doom and gloom for the South Africans as Thuso Phala was electric and looked hungry to impress during a man-of-the-match performance, but he could not quite find that final ball or strike to give Bafana a chance during the game. However, the man who many thought was a gamble to include in the final 23-man squad surely proved his doubters wrong.
The first half was a real bland affair, where many sounded anguished by Bafana’s lack of bite in the 35 000 strong Capetonian crowd. Defensively, a single mistake from Siyabonga Sangweni and Bongani Khumalo allowed for Tarik Elyounoussi to finish calmly with a sublime left-footed strike. It was a goal against the run of play, with South Africa dominating possession and looking intent on breaking the deadlock against an organised and plucky Norwegian defence.
There were no other defensive mishaps from South Africa, as they controlled the height and strength of Norway’s attacking players well according to Gordon Igesund, "Defensively we kept them at bay. They had some very tall strikers which we dealt with quite easily, and we turned defence into attack very well."
In the second Igesund made some telling substitutions, bringing on younger players who were not afraid to run with the ball and create chances, but there was still an element of profligacy in their play, as the attacking outfit seemed incapable of finding the decisive touch which was sorely needed.
Igesund noted this change in style and the impact players like Thulani Serero, Bernard Parker and Tokelo Rantie made on the game, "Second half we had players with different types of abilities, we were able to run at teams, run at players and that caused them a lot of problems.”
The blitz of attacking talent thrown onto the pitch could not turn the tide, which certainly begs the question whether the team lacks composure in the final third. This problem has plagued South Africa in the recent past and does not seem to be going away anytime soon.
Igesund disagrees with this sentiment though when he said, "It was not about a lack of composure. We often got the ball wide and a cross in the box and the keeper got down. We had a lot of chances, the keeper played very well.
"The players will realise that this was a great opportunity and that we need to work on the training field on making the right runs to make things easier. But the players know they played well tonight.
"We wanted to try and win it, and we were very unlucky.”
With a testing friendly against Algeria set to be played in Johannesburg on Saturday, Igesund’s promise for a fluid attacking unit still remains to be seen.