South Africa’s form has been dismal for a while now. Pre-Afcon, Elliot Ross concluded here that “they’re rubbish.” Johannesburg-based football writer Njabulo Ngidi basically confirmed as much in a preview for us of Bafana Bafana’s chances.
After the aimless goalless draw against Cape Verde on opening day, that football sage Jonathan Wilson wrote (in Sports Illustrated, not as usual in The Guardian)* that South Africans were living on past glories, just like England, that nation our footballers and fans so admire: “South Africa fans remember 1996 (the last and only time it won the African Cup of Nations) and see no reason their team can’t reach those heights again, but repeated failure has made them disinclined to be forgiving, unable quite to believe things will work themselves out. A lack of coaches may be the major practical problem, but there is also the psychological aspect of yearning for past glories.”
It also seems their fans hardly cared as the half empty stadium suggested and as Braden Ruddy discovered during a visit to an empty Madiba Restaurant in Brooklyn on Saturday morning to watch the opener. Some people suggested they needed a good sangoma. (For a while, they had forgotten to pay one, so it seems they were cursed for goals.) As for me, I went on Facebook this morning to make a solemn vow: “If Bafana Bafana beats Angola I’ll eat my hat with pepper soup.”
Then coach Gordon Igesund made 5 changes–most crucially he brought Dean Furman, who plays in the English League One (basically the 3rd division), along with the 2011 Swedish footballer (and separately, also athlete) of the Year, May Mahlangu, to partner in midfield. Simphiwe Tshabalala (whose reputation is undeserved; he’s largely in the squad because of the memories of his glorious 2010 World Cup goal) was left on the bench. Up front, Igesund started with Katlego Mphela (from local super club Mamelodi Sundowns) and Tokelo Rantsie (who also plays in Sweden, for
little known Malmö FF Allsvenskan).
From the get-go it was clear. South Africa came to play. Igesund went with four defenders, one holding midfielder and “the other five players committed to attacking.”
The Angolans looked harried and harassed. Before we knew it, it was 1-0. Goal from centre-back Siyabonga Sangweni. It was also the first goal scored in Group A in three matches. It looked as though I might be tucking into my hat with pepper soup after all.
It stayed that way until Lehlohonolo Majoro scored a second from an acute angle in the 62nd minute: 2-0. I was now seriously dreading social network ridicule (Facebook can be an unforgiving place on matchday) and my likely fate of having to eat not one but two hats with pepper soup.
Angola hardly threatened the South African goalkeeper Ithumeleng Khune. This was South Africa’s first victory in an actual Afcon tournament match in a while (the country plays and wins lots of friendlies since they’re always hosting). Furman, the only white guy in the team (you couldn’t miss him), was named man of the match. Will I eat my hat? Like any good South African I have been spinning myself out of that one, by now offering myself as motivation for team.
In the second game of the afternoon, Cape Verde was on the way to a historic first win, courtesy of a goal by Luis Soares, also known as Platini, who sprinted onto a clever through-ball that split the Moroccan centre halves and gingerly clipped his shot over the goalkeeper. It was the first goal Cape Verde had ever scored at the Nations Cup and joy was unconfined. Until Morocco’s Youssef El Arabi scored with about 12 minutes to go. Still, the tiny nation of 500,000 people is turning out to be the surprise package of the tournament, and who’d bet against them making the quarter-finals by overcoming Angola in the big Lusophone derby next week? Not us. We told you in our tournament preview that Cape Verde would make the quarter finals. You heard it here first.
* It’s interesting to note that within international media, perhaps the most insightful writing on the actual football at Afcon is published by betting websites, who commission respected experts like Jonathan Wilson to write for them throughout the tournament. Check out the preview he wrote for Zambia vs Nigeria here. It contains such nuggets as:
Nigeria are prone to panic and self-destruction – partly because, like England, they are tormented by the twin evils of expectant entitlement and a sense of the inevitability of their own demise. One in six Africans is Nigerian, they have produced as many top-class players as any other African nation and yet they have won the Cup of Nations only twice – half as often as the Egypt midfielder Ahmed Hassan.