They've Peaked At The Right Time
01 February 2013
This week’s DoRego’s revolving blog features Bafana Bafana legend, Helman Mkhalele.
On Bafana’s African Cup of Nations campaign, I think in the opening game we didn’t deliver according to the supporters’ expectations. The guys underperformed. Not to underrate Cape Verde, but our attitude towards the game wasn’t satisfactory. We knew that leading up to the Afcon Bafana played a couple of games and did well, and we were expecting that they would do much better during the Afcon, but the performance was really below par.
In the game against Angola, I saw a change of attitude from the players. They were under extreme pressure after the Cape Verde game and they realised that if they drew or lost that game, they wouldn’t proceed to the quarterfinals. We saw commitment that was previously lacking in Bafana Bafana. There was so much commitment and everyone wanted to win, something we haven’t seen in a Bafana team in a long time. The win brought back the confidence and self-belief and they started to play as a team. I can say the game against Morocco was the best performance that I have seen in our national team and it makes me believe that we are strong candidates to lift the Afcon trophy. You look at the confidence from the players, the team spirit. The other thing is that they’ve peaked at the right time. They started very poorly and their performance is improving and that gives me confidence that they will finish on a high note. Teams like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have well-established players and they started on a high note and, in many cases, you don’t find teams starting in that fashion and going on to finish on a high note. This is a gruelling tournament!
Looking at our style where the guys are passing the ball and making forward movements, we have the advantage against Mali. Mali have good players, but in terms of movement, they look too heavy. Our style of play will make it difficult for them, other than if we were facing DR Congo. They seem to be too slow because of their physique.
What can Bafana learn from the Class of 1996? The good thing that I’ve seen in the current Bafana is the body language from the players. You can see ukuthi (that) now they have this positive attitude towards the game and representing the country. They are now starting to really, really realise what it means to represent the country. You can see the commitment and passion on their faces. I would like to advise them to keep on working hard, showing that commitment and passion to represent their country. They need to focus on each game as it comes and not start to relax. That was the secret of the Class of 1996. We were just focusing on winning the next game. We didn’t think about winning the Afcon while we were in the quarterfinals. We said, ‘You know what? We really need to beat Algeria in the quarterfinals.’ And we did. We went on to beat Ghana in the semi-finals. They also need to know that even though the coach is there on the sidelines, each one of them is a leader in his own right. Yes, they have the captain, but they shouldn’t expect the captain to do all the talking. They need to stand up and take responsibility. If things don’t go their way, they shouldn’t drop their heads. Keep on going until the final whistle.
No one really knew much about Dean Furman. He’s impressed me. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities in terms of playing in the Bafana set-up. He played a couple of friendlies, but when you prepare for a tournament of this magnitude, especially in that position he plays, in many cases you need a player that has been playing more than 18 months. That’s the engine of the team. He managed in a very short space of time to control and organise things, especially when going forward. We are used to players that just stay in front of the defence, but he adds in attack and defence. That’s what I call a modern footballer. I’ve also been impressed with Thuso Phala, the way he applies himself, his attitude and his never-say-die spirit. Those are the types of players you like to have. You can see he hasn’t reached his true potential and he can still improve. Thulani Serero hasn’t got much game time, but he’s an impact player. Itumeleng Khune saved us against Morocco and since the tournament started, he’s been a key player.
I’m highly impressed with the standard of football at the Afcon. You can see that Africa has talent. Teams like Cape Verde worked on a plan in order to qualify. It wasn’t just a miracle and you can see it from the way they play. There is huge improvement in terms of development in most of the African countries. You look at the group stages, where it is the last games of the round that determine who goes through. I must say, in my observation, as much as football has improved in Africa, there is another department that we really need to focus on and that is how we apply ourselves in the attacking third. We aren’t creating enough scoring chances and I feel we haven’t scored enough goals in this Afcon. What has also improved is the defensive organisation. I have been quite impressed with some of the teams, but I still feel we haven’t done well enough as Africans in terms of supporting most of our teams. The Local Organising Committee were saying a lot of tickets had been sold, but the crowd attendance hasn’t matched that message. Also, you have a number of Ethiopians in the country. They might not qualify, but the quality football that they play makes people happy. Most of us knew that they were the team that was part of the countries that started the Afcon, but we didn’t know much about them. But it’s been nice seeing them play that type of football, although it needs some improvement. I am impressed with the attendance from their fans.
Bafana Bafana legend