AFCON 2013: Mali dangerous darkhorses

By IndepthAfrica
In 2013 Africa Cup of Nations
Feb 6th, 2013
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_65669915_sa_mali_2Mark Fish

I would like to say well done to Bafana Bafana and Gordon Igesund for restoring pride in the national team, which many of us supporters feared may have been lost for good.

I believe the team grew as the tournament progressed and they showed the passion and desire of Bafana teams of old, which our supporters have so dearly craved.

Going out on penalties is never a pleasant way to exit a tournament, but a winner ultimately has to be decided if the teams cannot be separated after 120 minutes of football. The best of them have all missed crucial spot-kicks, which have cost their teams a major tournament. Just ask Roberto Baggio, David Beckham and Asamoah Gyan.

While there’s no point in wrapping the players over the knuckles for their missed penalties the other evening, my advice would be to spend even more time practising penalties. The players must remember that the knock-out phase of a competition often comes down to spot-kicks to decide the outcome, so we can certainly sharpen up that aspect of our game.

Bafana Bafana must now put AFCON 2013 to bed and refocus their energy on qualifying for the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil. They must continue to play as a cohesive unit and play for a coach that respects his players – and visa versa. This will leave them in good stead when they venture into the heart of Africa for crucial away fixtures.

Igesund has certainly done himself justice in such a short space of time, which begs the question: Why wasn’t he appointed earlier? For example, had he been installed as coach ahead of the 2010 World Cup, I’m sure the side would have fared far better in that competition.

I believe that with Igesund at the helm and with the best available players at his disposal, we can return to the glory days where stadiums were filled to capacity whenever the national team was in action. After a solid showing at AFCON 2013, public expectation will be high, but I’m confident the team will carry forward the momentum and produce positive results in the near future.

A lot has been made of Bafana being exposed defensively at times during the tournament and certain individuals have been singled out for criticism. However, one must always remember that in football in order to score goals the ball comes from the back and to defend your goals, it starts from the front. In other words, it’s the whole team that attacks and defends.

I would encourage Bafana to improve their communication and really define their roles in the side. I share the sentiment that if the team succeeds or fails, it is a collective victory or defeat.

The team looks good now, so my message to the public and the media at large would be: Let’s not do anything to jeopardise the side’s progress by picking on certain individuals.

While Bongani Khumalo wore the captain’s armband during the tournament, I believe it is just a symbol for the team. In my view, all the players in the side are captains in the own right when they take to the field. For me, there are at least two types of leaders. Verbal ones who shout and talk a lot on and off the field in order to organise the team and then ones who are more softly-spoken, but who lead by their actions on the field to spur on performance.

From a personal point of view, Nigeria knocking out Ivory Coast was a big disappoint. While it wasn’t the greatest shock, as Nigeria has a rich culture of football talent, that result once again showed that the beautiful game is not won on paper, but rather out on the field. With a bit of luck on the day, any side can beat the other.

The Super Eagles may have knocked out the pre-tournament favourites, but pundits would be wrong to install Nigeria as favourites just because of that fact alone.

The Malian team is one that I have admired since the start of the tournament. With the inspirational figure of Seydou Keita in their ranks and drawing on the difficult climate in their country, I say write Mali off at your own peril!

Most would expect Nigeria and Ghana to reach the final, but this tournament has been one where the so-called minnows have surprised. In truth, I’m hoping for a Burkina Faso versus Mali final, as a first-time winner would then be crowned.

Mark Fish, capped 62 times for South Africa, was a key member of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations-winning side.

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