Is goal scoring really Bafana’s problem? Inconsistent team selection and poor home form is the team’s Achilles heel.
Bafana Bafana may be out of the running of the 2017 AFCON, but they are still in with a chance of qualifying for the next World Cup in Russia in 2018. Many believe the national team stands a snowball’s chance in hell of qualifying for the global showpiece, pointing to the team’s inability to score goals as the problem. But is goal scoring, or lack thereof, really Bafana Bafana’s problem? Consider this: in the failed AFCON 2017 qualification campaign Ephrahiim Shakes Mashaba’s men scored eight goals – the most in a group that included Cameroon. In fact, South Africa scored more goals than Egypt, The Ivory Coast, Burkino Faso, Uganda and Guinea-Bissau all of whom qualified for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations. Yet as recently as this Monday coach Mashaba highlighted the lack of consistent goal scorers as the problem, pointing out that the inclusion of in-form Bidvest Wits striker Eleazar Rodgers could be the solution.
A solution perhaps to a problem that doesn’t exist. But if goal scoring is not the problem, what is? It’s a two-part problem. First, in the unsuccessful bid to qualify for Gabon 2017, Bafana conceded 6 goals. The only qualified nation to have conceded more was Guinea-Bissau. In simple terms, Bafana are leaking goals. Why? A combination of injuries and Mashaba’s penchant for chopping and changing means that never in the entire AFCON 2017 qualification campaign did South Africa field the same starting back-four more than once. In all six matches, Mashaba and his technical team selected six different back-four combinations.
The second part of the problem is Bafana’s poor home form. Astonishingly, since Mashaba took over in July 2014, Bafana Bafana have won just two competitive matches on South African soil. Two out of eight, which included a shameful quarterfinal exit from the 2015 COSAFA Cup on home soil at the hands of Botswana. And when one considers that one of those two home wins was a 1-0 win over Angola thanks to an own goal, then it becomes clear why Bafana are struggling to keep pace with the top African footballing nations. Mashaba himself has made no secret of his preference for playing away. Over the last two years, Bra Shakes has reiterated that his team performs better outside the country because there is less pressure.
Compare that with the last South African senior men’s football team to qualify for a FIFA World Cup. The class of 2002 led by Trot Moloto and Carlos Quieroz won every single one of their home matches during that qualification campaign and conceded just three goals. So it’s simple: Bafana’s problem is not goal scoring but a leaky defence and an inability to deal with the pressure of playing in front of a home crowd. Mashaba must fix this if he wants to qualify for Russia 2018, settle on a consistent back-four and inspire his charges to perform in South Africa. His job depends on it.