Bafana Must Do Better at Keeping Possession – and Veldwijk Could Prove a Key Implement
By Katlego Mereko
Much has been said and written of Bafana Bafana’s unpalatable loss to Cote’ d’Ivoire in their first Group D clash, with the general consensus intimating that, outside the glaring defensive errors, Stuart Baxter’s charges could have retained the ball a little better and attacked a lot more.
A number of pundits connect Bafana’s frail stranglehold on Monday’s game to tactical aspects such as the formation, others scoff at Baxter’s preferred personnel, while the rest are not sold on Baxter’s general, if philosophical, approach to the game.
Perhaps these factors are not mutually exclusive, but what is for sure is that the boys in green and gold and their presiding mentor need to have addressed these issues ahead of their fate-defining clash against SADC foes Namibia.
Going up against the Brave Warriors will by no means be the walk-over it is mooted to become. In recent years, Bafana Bafana have made a distasteful habit of losing to so called minnows, with defeats against Cape Verde Islands in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers solidifying perhaps an already established reputation, as chokers.
Therefore, approaching the game with extreme seriousness is a non-negotiable prerequisite. This means – perhaps much to Baxter’s chagrin - that we need to play to the strengths of the squad, especially stylistically. Statistics show that ball possession percentages were perfectly even between the Elephants and Bafana Bafana in their first game, yet, the latter registered less shots at goal with an overall of four, including two on target, while Ibrahim Kamara’s team recorded a vastly superior 9, with 7 on target.
What these illustrate, especially since both sides were stylistically dependant on transition football, is that Cote d’Ivoire were more effective than Bafana on the break. This was to be somewhat expected, given the superior quality in the Elephants’ side. More importantly, however, they show that we need more chances in a bid to bury the ball in the net, especially given our well-known profligacy in front of goal.
Baxter’s boys lodged a slightly better passing percentage (75.3%) to their rivals (73.6%), but rather than being a measure of Bafana’s semblance of dominance on the game, it proves Cote d’Ivoire’s prowess on the break. In fact, South Africa, especially their midfielders, seemed rather unsure of what to do when in possession, with the coach’s favourite Dean Furman, along with Kamohelo Mokotjo and Lebohang Maboe concedeing possession needlessly at times, and often putting themselves under unnecessary pressure, as they all appeared to be plagued by a nervy first touch.
Wholesale changes are not expected from the stoic Scotsman ahead of a return to Al Salam Stadium on Friday evening, but if Bafana Bafana are to impose themselves on games, it would be meet to effect changes that would make this easier.
Baxter does not need to do away with his favoured double-pivot approach, but perhaps a swap in personnel (Hlompho Kekana for Furman, Bongani Zungu/Thulani Serero for Mokotjo) could do a lot of good in terms of ball retention. Most would probably also like to see Sibusiso Vilakazi, who has a classy first touch, get a run-in ahead of Sundowns teammate, Maboe.
Upfront, Lars Veldwijk could prove a better alternative to the prodigious Lebogang Mothiba. As evidenced by his impressive displays in Ligue 1 for RC Strasbourg, the lanky forward scored much of his 11 goals in all competitions by running at defenders, making him perfect for Baxter’s defensive system. Veldwijk, however, offers a different package. The Sparta Rotterdam striker is decidedly better with his back to goal than Mothiba, making him perfect for a more possession based game. He is also markedly stronger, a vital detail seeing how the team was bullied by the west Africans on Monday.
Baxter’s usual tactics and preferred line-up could very well work against a decidedly less threatening Namibia side, but can Baxter risk tactics surely already studied by the Namibian technical team?
The brit was correct in his statement to the media that a defeat for either side would spell the end of their AFCON campaign. More decisively for the gaffer, a loss would surely draw the curtains close on his second spell in charge of our national team, inviting more vociferous calls for fan-favourite and Cape Town City coach, Benni McCarthy, to replace him on thenational team hotseat.