Opening day stalemates an unusual Angol

SOUTH AFRICA VS CAPE VERDE Pressure and atmosphere, atmosphere and pressure. They can either visibly lift performance on host nations or render them to drown in a sea of self-doubt; there is no middle ground. Opening games usually set the tone for the rest of the tournament, or so they say. The script usually goes like this: the host team wins. As long as the host team win, everything is fine. But South Africa didn’t win.  If they’ve set the tone for the tournament, it’s an abysmal one. With a 0-0 draw in the other Group A match between Morocco and Angola, this was the first time there have been two 0-0 draws on the opening day. The only way is up. International football has, of course, become about establishing a cohesive unit either through sticking with a cadre of players in the medium-long term, like Zambia, or plucking a phalanx of individuals from a handful of club teams, like the epochs of Spanish and Egyptian football have shown. While South Africa have defensive dignity formed largely from well-resourced teams in Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, their attacking armour is severely lacking. Constructing simple moves seems to be an arduous task, one which shows no sign of improving on the basis of this game. Bafana Bafana incoherency exacerbated by curveballs South Africa coach Gordon Igesund had been mischievously keeping everyone guessing about the identity of his starting XI versus Cape Verde throughout the week, and when he named it an hour and a half before kick off there were curveballs which induced wide-eyed wonder in many. In a surprising move, striker Katlego ‘Killer’ Mphela, who started the recent warm-up friendlies against Algeria and Norway, and Thulani Serero, who started against Algeria and came off the bench against Norway, both started on the bench. In a way it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, for both of the players have only returned from long-term injuries, but it still was. In their place came in Kaizer Chiefs duo Lehlohonolo Majoro and Bernard Parker - a move that made sense given the Bafana Bafana's lack of understanding in attack and their club connection - whilst Thabo Matlaba was chosen ahead of the experienced  Tsepo Masilela at left-back.

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

Starting Line-ups

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.

Early Exchanges

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.

Slower Tempo

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.

Second Half

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.

Belhanda’s introduction did not amount to much

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.

Video Highlights

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1 Comment on Opening day stalemates an unusual Angol

  1. joseph chikosola // January 20, 2013 at 6:58 am // Reply

    I expecte a beter game today between DRC & Gana

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