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N’Golo Kante of France outruns Bafana Bafana's Bongokuhle Hlongwane in the international friendly at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, in Lille, France on March 29 2022. Picture: DAVID WINTER/SHUTTERSTOCK/BACKPAGEPIX
N’Golo Kante of France outruns Bafana Bafana's Bongokuhle Hlongwane in the international friendly at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, in Lille, France on March 29 2022. Picture: DAVID WINTER/SHUTTERSTOCK/BACKPAGEPIX

Much has been said and written about Bafana Bafana’s 5-0 humiliation at the hands of France last Tuesday.

Critics have slammed the SA Football Association (Safa) for lacking foresight in choosing the current world champions as opponents for a Bafana side that was clearly out of its depth against the likes of world-class operators such as Kylian Mbappe, N’Golo Kante, Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and the rest of Didier Deschamps’ Les Bleus side.

It’s not like suffering heavy defeats is anything new to Bafana. Shortly after the team’s introduction to international football they were on the wrong end of 4-0 drubbings at the hands of Nigeria and Mexico.

They also lost by the same scoreline to the US at the US Cup in 2000 and again to Nigeria at the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia. And let’s not forget the 5-0 pasting at the hands of a rampant Brazil at the FNB Stadium in March 2014 when a 22-year-old Neymar netted a hat-trick.

On the other end of the scale, it wasn’t too long ago, in October 2018, that Stuart Baxter’s Bafana side was held to a goalless draw in a 2019 Afcon qualifier by a semi-professional Seychelles side that included a pastry chef, a tour guide and a stevedore.

To be fair, as coach Hugo Broos stated before last week’s friendly, it’s better to lose to France than to get a false perception of reality by beating, with due respect, a team like Botswana, though the Zebras may beg to differ about their chances against Bafana.

At least the coach and the nation, if they didn’t already know it, were shown the harsh reality of how far their team is lagging behind the world’s top footballing nations.

France hardly needed to get out of second gear to net their five goals. Had it not been for the heroics of goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, the humiliation at Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy could have been much worse.

Bafana’s tepid performance highlighted much that is lacking in SA football. The team was hardly able to string together more than three or four passes at a time simply because their speed of thought and movement off the ball was too ponderous or even non-existent.

The swiftness with which the French players closed down their opponents badly exposed the South Africans, who are used to first looking up and having the time to decide what to do next. There are no such luxuries when facing top-quality opponents.

Broos was not the first to note, as he did in his post-match comment, that the lesson learnt from the game was that SA football needs a plan and structures to nurture and develop young talent.

It’s an achilles heel that’s been identified by several coaches who couldn’t help but notice the obvious lack of technical skills in many footballers who play in SA’s top flight.

Former Orlando Pirates coach Josef Zinnbauer spelt out this harsh reality upon his departure from the country last August.

“There are things you can teach your players as a senior head coach and there are things that a player should have learned from a young age which is difficult to teach when he is already old. Especially the defenders  — even a 17-year-old European defender can do much better than some 30-year-old PSL defenders,” the German said with admirable candour.

Another part of the problem is that SA has no players campaigning in Europe’s top leagues, as was the case until Steven Pienaar’s retirement following a one-season stint with Sunderland in 2017. Yes, Percy Tau had a brief spell with Brighton in the Premier League between January and May 2021 but he spent most of his time warming the bench.

Long gone are the days when Lucas Radebe was captaining Leeds United, Benni McCarthy, then with Blackburn Rovers, finished runner-up to Didier Drogba in the race for the 2006-07 Golden Boot, Shaun Bartlett won the BBC’s Premier League Goal of the Season award in 2001, Quinton Fortune picked up a league winner’s medal with Manchester United in 2003, and Sibusiso Zuma’s spectacular bicycle kick for FC Copenhagen was voted the Danish Superliga’s Goal of the Season in 2001 and Goal of the Decade in 2009.

There were also others such as Mark Fish, Steve Komphela, Fani Madida, Shoes Moshoeu, Eric Tinkler, Siyabonga Nomvethe and Delron Buckley, who were all playing in Europe’s top leagues.

The experience those players gained from playing against top-quality opposition every week in Europe is incalculable and it was reflected in Bafana’s performances when they won the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations and qualified for the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.

The value of the humiliation against France will soon become apparent as Bafana start their campaign in June to qualify for the 2023 Afcon in Ivory Coast. Should they fall short, as one of the two seeded teams in the 12 groups, then perhaps they should steer far away from playing against the world’s top teams.


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