VICTORY by the only goal of the match was not quite the send-off unbeaten Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba had in mind yesterday.
While on any other day Zambia would have been worthy opponents to prepare for the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea in two weeks’ time, scorching heat turned the friendly pre-cup encounter at Orlando Stadium into a slog.
So, even a goalless draw would not have been a surprise – but then substitute Thuso Phala punished a lethargic Zambia defence in the 81st minute.
But it was a pity Soweto did not come to the party. What was shocking was the small number of fans who arrived at the ground to bid the national team farewell as they jet off.
First, they go to Gabon for more friendly matches, and then head for their base in Mongomo. Bafana are in Group C – labelled the group of death – in the Nations Cup and will face Algeria, Senegal and Ghana.
Zambia – nicknamed Chipolopolo – are also participants at the cup, but yesterday’s performance was one to forget for both teams.
Bafana defender Erick Mathoho was perhaps the standout player in a match that probably needed more water breaks than were allowed.
This match was about trying to adapt to blazing temperatures, but the players just did not know that until well into the game. Bafana will also be roasting in Equatorial Guinea and they will need to work on their passing game and counter-attacks if they are to make anything of their trip to the Nations Cup.
Coach Mashaba began the road to Mongomo without Thulani Serero after omitting the Ajax Amsterdam playmaker from his final 23-man squad.
But with Andile Jali and Dean Furman missing in midfield through injury and club commitments respectively, Bafana could not show their true colours.
The probable starting lineup was there for all to see. Darren Keet appears to have convinced Mashaba that he should take over from the late Senzo Meyiwa permanently and will be guarded by the towering Mathoho and young Rivaldo Coetzee.
It is the front line that needs tweaking. Yesterday, the shots on target were scarce, and striker Bongani Ndulula showed the nation what he is capable of – and that is not much.
Bernard Parker took Ndulula’s place on the stroke of half time.
The Kaizer Chiefs’ forward then made a strong case as to why he should partner Tokelo Rantie during the Nations Cup.
The final 15 minutes – especially after Mashaba brought on goalscorer Phala, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Themba Zwane – were more what the fans were desperate for early on.
Bafana can build from this, but can they bring the cup home?
– Mazola Molefe