Cape Verde technically accomplished, South Africa technically turgid
Bereft of the grandeur of their best players, their omission seemed to contaminate the fans in the stadium and, adding South Africa’s nervous start to the equation, culminated in a subdued atmosphere. With the more complete Reneilwe Letsolonyane preferred over the midfield tidiness of Dean Furman, the Bafana Bafana struggled to even keep simple possession and resorted to hopeful long balls for much of the game.
Cape Verde, in contrast, showed the poise in possession of an in-form upper-tier continental side. They may not go far in the tournament but the way they prize the ball when they have it along with their tight defensive structure, they have every chance of scraping a runners-up spot in a very open group.
We shouldn’t have expected anything different from Bafana Bafana
The half-time introduction of Lereto Chabangu for the injured Dikgacoi gave South Africa some impetus, albeit inefficient. Chabangu was elevated higher up the field and gave the Bafana Bafana an extra body, occasionally drifting to the wings to combine with the full-backs. However, the breakdown in communications remained incessant when it came to the final third.
The lack of blunt in attack shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who had watched South Africa’s recent friendlies. When I wrote the South Africa preview, I quipped that were they may not even have the chance to celebrate a goal at the tournament due to their miscommunication in attack. At the time, I thought they would at least score a goal. I’m not so sure now. The saddest thing is their lack of bluntness in attack has reached a new nadir, and given their current form – not scored in their last three games and only managing one shot on target today – it’s not inconceivable that they may not score during this tournament.
Do they have a solution for this endemic problem? No, they only look slightly better with Thulani Serero and Katletgo Mphela. The incongruous moves that are ubiquitous in attack are the result of years of constantly changing coaches and personnel in attack. South Africa do not have a plan, they need a prayer.
Man of the Match: Fernando “Nando” Neves
The colossal Wolverine-like defending was captain personified in the biggest match Cape Verde have played to date. He regularly barked out orders to his fellow defenders and carefully directed the midfielders in front of him like a Soviet chess grandmaster.
ANGOLA VS MOROCCO
There were few surprises announced from either side as both coaches opted for their conventional line-ups. Younes Belhanda was rested as he is still recovering from a muscle strain. Angola’s tricky winger Djalma couldn’t budge his way into the team as Mingo Bile took up an unconventional position ahead of the Pirolito/Dede double pivot.
After enduring an insipid opening match, fans all over the world silently prayed for a better 90 minutes when Angola took on Morocco. Initial worries dissipated as both teams traded promising early exchanges. Morocco looked especially up for it in midfield as their direct wingers Assaidi and Amrabat gave Angolan attacking fullbacks Miguel and Lunguinha something to consider. Karim El Ahmadi, Aston Villa’s central midfielder, then decided to spur on and aid his wingers. His first shot from 30 yards out skipped on the slippery surface which drew a standard save from Lama. Five minutes later El Ahmadi latched on to an El Hamdaoui knockdown and toed a quick shot towards Lama who, once more, relied on his reflexes to produce a diving save. Yet Morocco showed no signs of letting up, as Assaidi split a pair of Angolan defenders but blasted over with his left foot. The last charges of Moroccan pressure came in the form of yet another El Ahmadi strike, and one from El Hamdaoui which seemed destined for the top corner until Lama rudely knocked it away.
As the half drew to a close, Angola began to bring down the tempo. Mateus and Geraldo involved themselves in spite of the woeful distribution Dede and Pirolito produced. Once on the ball, the former two constantly got the better of FAR Rabat fullback Abderrahim Chakir. Unfortunately for the Sable Antelopes, not much ensued from resulting free-kicks as the match fizzled into half-time.
If the early exchanges of the first half offered us respite from the contagious overspill of banality South Africa-Cape Verde emitted, the second half plunged right back in. Angola had the lion’s share of possession (pun unintended), but resorted to a very South African way of attacking. Both centre backs Ramos and Dany Massunguna tried long and ambitious diagonals to Manucho and the newly introduced Guilherme Afonso. Though the tactic did expose some defensive frailties inherent in the Moroccan defense, it failed to involve Angola’s best players- Mateus and Geraldo.
Morocco also got away from their wing-play as Hermach and El Ahmadi struggled with an overloaded Angolan midfield. Taoussi reacted by replacing the quiet Barrada with talisman Younes Belhanda, but to no avail. Both gaffers moved uncomfortably as the result inched closer and closer to shared points. Ferrin introduced his experienced playmaker Gilberto and the unpronounceable Corsican winger Belghazouani also made his first apparition in the Cup of Nations. The remaining actions of the second half were desperate, undisciplined and impromptu as the match disappointingly stumbled to a halt.
Man of the Match: Lama
Mateus, Assaidi, Geraldo and El Ahmadi all shone in patches, but the man of the match has to go to Angolan keeper Lama. The experienced shot-stopper plying his trade at Petro Luanda frustrated the Moroccan vanguard time and time again as he assured his nation a point in Johannesburg.