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OPINION: What should Bafana Bafana fans make of the Hollywoodbets COSAFA Cup performance?

The Hollywoodbets COSAFA Cup 2022 was held in Durban, South Africa, with the host nation ready to defend their title.

Image copyright - Steve Haag Sports

The Hollywoodbets COSAFA Cup 2022 was held in Durban, South Africa, with the host nation ready to defend their title.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

In 2021, South African football fans were unable to witness Bafana Bafana lift the regional trophy for the first time in five years. Now, with fans back in attendance, the experience was unlike any other for all parties involved.

The national first-team coach Hugo Broos passed the responsibility of overseeing the youth players to the more than capable, Helman Mkhalele. The 23-man-squad selected was seen as an opportunity for Mzansi’s up and coming ballers to showcase their talent. So, with the results accomplished in Durban, can the Bafana-faithful be excited about what the future holds for our beloved team?

The current mandate for Bafana Bafana under coach Broos is – qualify for AFCON 2023. We have already seen him stamp his identity of youth on the national squad since his introduction back in May of 2021. The youth is the future, and when it comes to the COSAFA Cup, that is more prevalent. The average age of the squad was between 19 and 20 years of age, and the most experienced of the lot was young talent Ethan Brooks who earned himself two more caps (11) from the bench.

The Squad Selection

There was what seemed to be an inevitable backlash when the 23-man-squad was announced to defend the title. The media, fans, and even ex-players spoke out against the young squad. Former Orlando Pirates forward Katlego Mashego took a jab at the process when speaking to KickOff saying, “You can select your Cosafa team from the best players in your local league, but now it’s about first division players or players who are not regulars in their teams.”

“I’m sure there are players who are young and play regularly in their clubs. Because whichever way you want to look at it this is still the national team. You can’t have players that still need to be developed in the national team.

“On Wednesday, who are those players that were playing there? Some of them I have never seen or never heard of.

“There are players like Nkosingiphile Ngcobo, Njabulo Blom who are not even in the national team set-up, why don’t they invite those players?”

Ahead of the COSAFA Cup, Broos made it clear to the public that he is not happy with the quality in the PSL, alongside insight into the lack of any form of football for the under-23’s national set up. Coach Makhelele backed his head coach stating that players chosen for the COSAFA tournament are earmarked for the 2024 Olympic Games qualifiers. Furthermore, the 2026 World Cup will see a majority of these players reaching the ripe age required – roughly aged 23-25.

These young players have grown in three games under the cosh. Can you fathom the mental strength, experience, and player growth after they play together in the upcoming 2022 African Nations Championship (CHAN 2022), the 2024 Olympic Games, as well as their respective club football in and between?

Players who raised their hands

In fairness to critiques out there, not all the players selected raised their hands emphatically but like in any competition there are those who shine. Heading into the tournament, there were names who were always going to be closely watched.

Ethan Brooks was obviously the fan favourite and rightfully so, having been apart of the 2021 winning squad. Boitumelo Radiopane of Orlando Pirates (now on loan at Cape Town Spurs) came into the tournament on the back of a uber successful DStv Diski Challenge campaign with 24 goals, earning the top goalscorer award. Other young talents who aimed to shine are SuperSport United’s Selaelo Rasebotja and Mamelodi Sundowns’ Siyanda Msani aka Marcelo.

Unfortunately, new AmaZulu talent Brooks was advised to only play 15-20 minutes at the most by Bafana’s medical team but did shine on two separate occasions when coming on as a substitute against both Madagascar and Botswana. He played a free role with a lot of energy on both occasions finding himself unlocking defence, building up from the back and holding up play up top in both fixtures.

Following his disappointments with the SA national Under-17s (Amajimbos) in Mauritius, back in 2018, Radiopane was determined to ‘not lose’. Speaking to ahead of the cup he said, “We lost to Angola in the final (2018 COSAFA U-17) and no one was happy with that outcome. I for one, have since grown from it, hence why I am here.”

But things did not go according to plan for the up-and-coming star. He featured in South Africa’s loss to Mozambique which put the team in the running for the COSAFA Plate (losers’ bracket). While South African football is played mostly down the wings, Radiopane was not able to get himself into the game, including a few occasions where he did not attack spaces open to him, as well as not entirely making himself available in dropping deep. As a striker, it is challenging in South Africa, but he has showed in the past coming back strong is his forte.

Players who showed the nation without question they are here to stay is midfielder Rasebotja and left-back Msani. Despite losing the opening fixture, Rasebotja dominated the midfield against Mozambique and played a crucial role against Madagascar although looking slightly jaded. Marcelo showed his defensive game in heaps and displayed his physical durability with numerous attacks and overlapping runs with composure.

Both players played a full 180 minutes in the first two fixtures, and against Botswana were introduced five minutes before the end of the first half. Botswana were beginning to take over the fixture, but the introduction of these two players greatly turned the tide.

Blinded by results when the future is bright

There is no denying professional football is about results, but from time to time, they can blind us to what is being cooked. Our penalty loss to Mozambique was highly disappointing in front of a packed King Zwelithini Stadium, but the side were able to still play a total of three fixtures.

Most of these young players had never played with a crowd like in their first encounter and it could have arguably been the mitigating factor. A rather unchanged side against Madagascar proved they can get the required result with even lower energy levels, and a final against a fairly strong Botswana with a heavily rotated squad didn’t prove all the more difficult.

A fifth-placed finish is nothing to brag about, but the experience gained is everything considering the players heading into the tournament. The future looks bright…

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