Fighting spirit should carry Bafana Bafana during the Africa Cup of Nations

It may have ended as a dull draw against Algeria, but Bafana Bafana’s performance against the North Africans displays that they are on the right track

South Africa has the ability to control possession and build pressure, which was on show during a hard-fought 0-0 draw against Algeria on Saturday evening. After a dismal 1-0 loss against a second-string Norway side, Bafana Bafana needed to show their fans that they could match a powerful and technically adept Algerian outfit and this they did, with a solid and spirited performance against the North African giants.

Goals. It’s the word on everyone’s lips in South Africa right now. Bafana Bafana needs to score goals and take their game to the next level when they begin their Africa Cup of Nations campaign against Cape Verde Islands in merely six days’ time.

Goals were on hand for South Africa on Saturday evening, but once more that final touch deserted the side when it was most needed, Katlego Mphela guilty once more of spurning a chance in the first half, when his strength was on show in holding off the attentions of powerful centre-back Carl Medjani. His shot left much to be desired though as he struck an effort straight at Rais M’Bolhi.

It was not the end of M’Bolhi’s work in the first stanza, as Bernard Parker came close with a curling effort, after bursting forward with some remarkable intent, forcing the keeper into another impressive save. South Africa was coming close; words echoed by Gordon Igesund following the encounter, "The goals are going to come. We are getting better and better if you analyse it."

The second half saw South Africa come close via Simphiwe Tshabalala’s swirling volley and almost won a penalty via Tokelo Rantie, but the striker was caught offside. A hand ball shout late in the second half was not given by the officials, with Gordon Igesund blaming the recent match-fixing allegations as the reason behind the referee’s lack of decision-making.

“Ever since the allegations of bribery, every referee is scared to make a decision! I thought that was a penalty and some other decisions around the box,” Igesund stated after the match.

Igesund’s promise for an attacking South Africa is still to be realised, as the side could not create many clear-cut chances, with not enough shots on target for a side which is focusing on developing their attacking play. But the Algerians were a tough nut to crack led by a disciplined defensive outfit.

Defensively South Africa was marshalled well by Bongani Khumalo and Siyabonga Sangweni, whose solidity at the back helped the side to concentrate on building towards goal up-front. There were no mistakes from the defensive pairing, who were both guilty during South Africa’s 1-0 loss against Norway.

The likes of Valenica’s Sofiane Feghouli and Slimani were kept quiet for the majority of the encounter, a credit to the obvious work South Africa has put into the defensive positioning and work-rate. The Algerians did find themselves in good positions to unleash shots at goal, but were profligate in the final third.

Igesund made this point following the game, "You must remember we played a good team today. They are second in Africa and 19th in the world, and we were the better team, we were in control. It was a very technical game."   

That it was, with South Africa controlling possession and searching for a way to break down an almost impenetrable Algerian defence. Without a doubt, the hosts were the better team overall, creating the best chances and forcing Algeria into a corner with slick passing and possession.

However, what was truly on show was South Africa’s fighting spirit against their illustrious opponent, as the side worked hard on closing down the Desert Foxes throughout the tie and were able to hinder Algeria’s forwards and creative play by applying pressure.

Commitment and passion will drive the home team during the tournament and should be their main weapon against sides which possess a greater ability than the hosts. Home advantage also helped during the tie as Igesund credited the fans for their support, “The crowd played a big part tonight, we were obviously doing something good on the field because they are starting to believe now.”    

Igesund noticed the improvement from his charges and praised their performance with, "I think it was important to show people what we can do and we enjoyed ourselves.

"It was a tough game, a good exercise, and exactly what we needed going into our next game.

"The guys are showing a hunger and you can see their fighting spirit. There was a high difference in how we used the possession better."