Coach Stuart Baxter made a number of changes to the team that started against Nigeria at the weekend
IT WAS a case of the good, the bad and the ugly for Bafana Bafana when they played to a 1-1 draw with Paraguay in the Nelson Mandela Challenge friendly at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Tuesday.
Coach Stuart Baxter made a number of changes to the team that started against Nigeria at the weekend, allowing him an opportunity to run the rule over the next tier of Bafana players.
In the process, he was also able to provide the younger members with some valuable international experience. But how did things ultimately work out?
The kid is just on fire: there is only one name football followers in the country are chanting at the moment – Percy Tau. The 24-year-old is in superb form and just about everything he touches turns to gold. Having come to prominence at Mamelodi Sundowns, which paved the way for his PSL Footballer of the Year award last season, Tau has become an even better player since moving to Europe. On Tuesday, he was again at the heart of every Bafana attack and when they pushed for an equaliser in the closing stages, who else but Tau to score the all-important goal with the last kick of the game. The kid is simply sensational.
This was a difficult fixture for Bafana, especially because of the raft of changes to the team. With a few inexperienced players on show, it was always going to be interesting to see how they would go. Paraguay played with discipline and organisation, but what was most noticeable was the manner in which Bafana were able to move the ball around quickly and find space. There is great merit in that and something for Baxter to build on as he prepares the squad for the crunch 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Libya in March next year.
It’s also important to mention the success of Bafana’s combination play. Much has been discussed about Thulani Serero’s recall to the squad. But both Serero and Lebogang Maboe were effective sitting in just behind Tau and they regularly teed up the forward with intelligent passes. Serero delivered the ball to create the opening for Tau’s last-gasp equaliser; he was a classy presence and more than justified his selection.
Physicality is an area where Bafana are always found wanting. It was no different against an aggressive Paraguay team. Nobody is suggesting the South Africans bulk up in order to compete because dealing with aggression and physicality has nothing to with body shape. It’s all in the head and the attitude: some of the smallest players in world football are super-aggressive and physical (Arsenal’s Lucas Torreira, to mention just one name). Baxter has to create a mindset among his players that they won’t back down in the face of such hostility – in essence, Bafana simply need to get stuck in too.
If there’s something Baxter will need to pay particular attention to, it’s Bafana’s reaction to counter-attacks. Make no mistake, when the qualifier against Libya arrives in March, this is what Bafana can expect: the opposition will sit back, soak up the pressure, and then hit on the break. On Tuesday, Paraguay were successful in regularly carving open Bafana’s defensive lines on the transition. It’s a concern, especially with Libya in mind. Again, it’s something for Baxter to ponder and then work feverishly on.
Central defender Motjeka Madisha had a night he would rather forget. In short, he handed the ball to the Paraguayans like candy and as such, constantly placed his team under pressure. It was also from one such unforgivable error that the South Americans were able to score. Baxter thankfully brought the defender’s nightmare to an end by substituting him at half-time. Madisha, no doubt, will learn from this and hopefully benefit from the dreadful experience.