The Super Eagles ended a 19-year wait to regain the African Nations Cup when a goal from forward Sunday Mba gave Nigeria a 1-0 win over Burkina Faso in the final at Soccer City on Sunday. For South Africa there is much to be learned from the tournament it hosted but some immediate action is required.
Stephen Keshi became the second player in history to win the trophy as player and as coach after Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary.
The 24-year-old Mba, who plays in Nigeria’s domestic league with Warri Wolves but looks destined for greater things, struck after 40 minutes when the ball bounced off a defender following a shot from the always-dangerous Victor Moses.
Displaying a flash of inspiration, Mba flicked the ball over defender Mohamed Koffi and then quickly reacted to score with his other foot as Bakary Kone closed in. It was Nigeria’s third African Cup of Nations title. Only Egypt, Cameroon and Ghana have won more.
Some observers say Burkina Faso seemed in awe of the occasion while others claim they were jaded after two matches in three days which required extra time. The beaten finalists tried their very best to score the equaliser in the final twenty minutes, but were denied by a strong defensive effort.
Burkina Faso produced a major upset by beating one of the pre-tournament favourites, Ghana, in the semi-finals. At times during the final, they played as if they were content with being in the final as their ultimate goal.
Nigeria, on the other hand, played with an intensity and focus that suggested they were obsessed with winning the cup for a third time. John Obi Mikel dominated the midfield well, while Elderson Echiejile, Efe Ambrose and Kenneth Omeruo were in control at the back.
Ambrose and Omeruo shielded and marshalled the inspirational winger Jonathan Pitroipa so well that he could not truly create chances.
Perhaps that was Burkina Faso’s greatest weakness. They lacked sparkle in the midfield. They carried the ball well through their wingers but, inside the box, there was only one true chance created and Wilfried Sanou’s effort flew wide.
Nigeria had at least four opportunities to double their score, and Moses would have been distraught if Burkina Faso had equalised in the final twenty minutes. The Nigerian striker would have known he had clear chances to find the back of the net, but fluffed his lines.
South African lessons
From a South African perspective, much could be learned from the African Cup of Nations, but will the management of the South African Football Association and Africa’s commercially most lucrative soccer nation take the lessons onboard?
One glaring weakness was the inability to punish teams when South Africa had them on the back foot.
One excellent example was in the quarter-final against Mali when South Africa controlled play for the first 38 minutes. A striker of international class, even Didier Drogba with one strained calf, would have scored.
The Sunday Times, in their review of the African Cup of Nations, expressed their deepest concern about the status quo in SA soccer: “The problems are manifold. They are structural, technical, developmental, mental, nutritional, educational and motivational,” the columnist claim.
The question asked is whether South Africa should rather focus on qualifying for 2014 World Cup, build a group of young players and concentrate all their efforts on the 2018 Soccer World Cup?
Should Bafana Bafana introduce the future generation like Thulani Serero, Oupa Manyisa, May Mahlangu, Tokelo Rantie and Daylon Claasen, the Sunday Times asked.
The unequivocal answer is that South Africa needs a blend of youth and experience and that Gordon Igesund must be given license to hire one or two top technical coaches to improve the quality of Bafana Bafana’s finishing.
Also, South Africa has received enough money from the World Cup legacy trust to establish academies in all provinces. But, perhaps the national body should look at improving the effectiveness of just one or two of those academies.
Ajax in Amsterdam has become the manufacturer and exporter par excellence to some of the greatest clubs in Europe. It is also common place that young players are unearthed and bought by clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United at age 13 or 14.
With the cash available, South Africa could and should strengthen their ability to develop the best young players on the continent. It is an alarming trend that Siyabonga Sangweni started playing for Bafana at age 29, while Lehlohonolo Majoro never represented the South African junior teams.
The vision of a coach can be very important as Gary Kirsten has showed since he inherited the South African cricket team in 2011. He immediately made advances in the test arena, resulting in series wins away from home against England and Australia.
Danny Jordaan, in an interview with the Sunday Times, underlined the importance of giving Igesund a run. He also highlighted the defensive frailty and that some of the defenders were still very inexperienced.
South Africa will play qualifiers against the Central African Republic on June 2 and Ethiopia on June 8. What is needed right now by the South African Football Association is a clear plan of action and a vision going forward. If they want to become the best in Africa, they need a master plan and a CEO to execute that plan.
Igesund should be given the reigns until the next African Cup of Nations. But as the Sunday Times rightly explained, lip service won’t win Bafana Bafana trophies or help them to qualify for the Fifa Soccer World Cup. Neither will cosmetic improvements suffice. They require concrete action.