Could it be that Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos fancies himself a sort of footballing magician? It’s one way to explain his reaction to South Africa’s pathetic showing in their recent international friendlies.
After a goalless draw against Guinea in Belgium, where the senior national team’s profligacy in front of goal was laid bare, world champions France then hammered Bafana 5-0 in the northern French city of Lille. These are not the kind of results to inspire confidence ahead of competitive internationals.
The coach should have been concerned, especially as he only recently failed to fulfil his mandate of leading South Africa to World Cup qualification. But not Broos. Deep in the bowels of the Pierre Mauroy Stadium, the silver-haired Belgian left some cringing as he assessed Bafana’s performance: “It is not a shame for us when it is 5-0. We know why and the experience we have got today to play against such a team is more than the defeat.”
In many countries coaches get fired for such a comprehensive whipping, irrespective of the significance – in this case, insignificance – of such a match. But Broos was not done. “For us, the result was not important, it was the experience. We are a young team with young players who don’t have the experience the French players have.”
Granted, playing the top-ranking team and defending world champions in their own backyard would provide invaluable experience for any side. But to say Bafana are a young team is disingenuous. The team he played may be lacking in international experience, but they are not young. Among those who started against France, goalkeeper and captain Ronwen Williams is 30, Thabang Monare is 32, Siyanda Xulu is 30, Nyiko Mobbie is 27, Mothobi Mvala is 27 and Nkosinathi Sibisi is 26.
That the French player who put them to the sword was 23-year-old Kylian Mbappe should have made Broos steer far from the “young team” excuse. Perhaps what he should have stressed is that Bafana are an “inexperienced” team, given that most of the squad are new to international football. A lot of players in the squad had never played in front of a capacity crowd so vociferously partisan. More than that, most of the players hadn’t played in front of a crowd at all recently, after two seasons of no spectators in South African Premier Soccer League stadiums.
It was bound to be an overwhelming experience, facing the World Cup winners and football stars they usually watch on television playing for the big European clubs. But Broos said Bafana gave a good account of themselves because “we fight for it, we did what we had to do. I saw new players and they played a good game. I also saw a team that, even with the difficulties [of playing against a team of a higher quality than us] remained a team to the end. The boys fought for it and there is more quality now than there was six or seven months ago, and we are ready for June.”
The question now is if the so-called experience Bafana gained from their slaughter by France will come in handy in their upcoming games. With qualifying for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) beginning in June, how does Broos intend to get the team scoring goals and prevent Williams from scooping up the ball in his own net?
Maybe he does have a magic wand, for there isn’t enough time to turn Bafana into a competitive squad rather than the Sunday morning park players they resembled against Guinea and the sycophants they were in Lille. They are unlikely to be as awestruck, but what transpired against France makes it difficult to imagine any African opposition shaking in their boots at the prospect of facing Bafana.
Having failed to qualify for the most recent Afcon or earn a spot at the Fifa World Cup in Qatar, Bafana cannot lay claim to being among Africa’s best. You can bet other countries will hope to have South Africa in their group come the draw for qualifiers for Afcon Ivory Coast in 2023.
How, then, will Broos make use of the “experience” gained from playing France?
For starters, there might not be a chance to play other international friendlies before the qualifying begins. This means Bafana will go into their first competitive game nursing wounds from that 5-0 drubbing. It makes for yet another qualification campaign in which South Africa hopes for a miracle, praying that a result somewhere goes Bafana’s way.
It is a shame for a country that once won the continental title and then went to successive World Cups to sink to such levels of mediocrity that even the players express satisfaction after such a beating. Williams sang from the same hymn book as Broos, even though he was embarrassed to have again conceded a handful of goals in national colours. He was in goal when Brazil clobbered Bafana with the same scoreline in March 2014.
“It was a wonderful experience playing against such huge stars,” he said. “Obviously as players we will learn a lot from this, and it will make us a better team going forward. We were more focused on the performance than the results.”
Incredibly though, this was one of Williams’ better games in a Bafana jersey. Despite the five he let in, he made 11 good saves in a game that equalled South Africa’s worst defeat since the country was readmitted to international football in 1992.
He was one of the few players who had a decent match. The rest were star-struck and it was clear they were eagerly anticipating the final whistle so they could pose for selfies with the likes of Manchester United’s Paul Pogba. This scene was embarrassing enough, without the nonsense Broos spewed after the match.
Many Bafana coaches have been fired for lesser showings. The former Cameroon coach will have to dig deep to summon his Afcon-winning prowess and ensure he gets Bafana to the showpiece next year. Anything less and he must be shown the door.