Abafana baseMzansi – Part 7

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 5th Aug 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Sports>Football (Soccer)

A continued look into the history of the South African national football team with this installment focusing on South Africa's participation in the 1998 FIFA World Cup held in France under the tutelage of the peculiar Philippe "The Witch doctor" Troussier.

Bonjour la France!

In 1996, a total of thirty eight CAF nations entered the FIFA World Cup qualifications with only five slots in the France showpiece allocated to the African Zone.

To decide who went to World Cup, there were two rounds of play:

In the first round: Cameroon, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt (the four highest-ranked teams according to FIFA) received byes and advanced to the Final Round directly whereas the remaining thirty-two teams were paired up to play knockout matches on a home-and-away basis with the winners advancing to the Final Round.

In the final round: The twenty teams would be divided into five groups of four where the teams would play against each other on a home and away basis and the group winners would qualify.

Bafana Bafana convincingly swept passed minnows Malawi to get to the final round, where they were paired with Zambia, the Republic of Congo and The Democratic Republic of Congo (then known as Zaire).

In his book Why England Lose And Other Strange Phenomenon, Simon Kuper mentioned a study focusing on the Dark Eyed Junco which its results found that when a group of birds are resident in an aviary and another group is added, the home birds threaten the newly added group and the away birds back down.

Many of us know this as defending our territory and as prevalent as it is in the animal kingdom, the same applies to humans and (in this case) football. With the influence of supporters, the home team is almost always the aggressor because tactically, playing at home is the best time to pick up a win.

Bafana is a classic example of this notion. The team are usually (or at least try to be) strong at home but are historically poor travelers with the proof being in the World Cup qualifiers. During the ’98 qualifications, the team won, drew and lost their away games but managed to win all their home games, most importantly their final group game against the Republic of Congo which allowed them to top the group and qualify for the World Cup finals in France but due to their stutters away from home, coach Clive Barker was released just weeks before the AFCON ’98 finals in Burkina Faso and Jomo Sono was put in charge. Bra J did well to take South Africa to the finals but wasn’t retained, paving the way for Philippe Troussier to become coach.

While he was known to South Africans from a short stint at Kaizer Chiefs, it was an unsuccessful one and his appointment to the national team left South Africans in shock.

Born in Paris, Troussier started coaching at the age of 28 in his native France in 1983. Despite not being native to Africa, he had a vast amount of experience having spent four years in the Ivory Coast, where he coached the national team in 1993 and was in charge of top club ASEC Abidjan for three years. During his three-year stay at ASEC Abidjan he never lost a league game. While coaching in Morocco, he won the Moroccan Cup with FUS Rabat. During that time he also took the Super Eagles of Nigeria through the World Cup qualifying rounds before leaving the team for the Burkina Faso job because the minister of sport interfered too much in his work.

Impressing with the team in their AFCON campaign, SAFA recruited him to become Bafana coach and made his appointment official on the 1st of March 1998 – three months before the World Cup.

With an average age of 24, Philippe Troussier chose a relatively young squad with fifteen of the twenty-three man squad plying their trade abroad.

Andre Arendse
Brian Baloyi
Simon Gopane
Hans Vonk

Mark Fish
Pierre Issa
Willem Jackson
Themba Mnguni
David Nyathi
Lucas Radebe

Quinton Fortune
Doctor Khumalo
Helman Mkhalele
William Mokoena
Lebogang Morula
John Moshoeu
Alfred Phiri

Brendan Augustine
Shaun Bartlett
Delron Buckley
Phil Masinga
Benny McCarthy
Jerry Sikhosana

One thing about Troussier’s reign was his belief in youngsters which showed in his selection of youngsters such as Pierre Issa. He believed in looking at the long term picture and was a bit of a disciplinarian who was not afraid to bench star players as he did in Nigeria when he benched Jay-Jay Okocha or (more famously)showing no hesitation when he sent William “Naughty” Mokoena home after he went out partying on the eve of the World Cup.

Another thing about Troussier was his willingness to experiment. In an era where Bafana was characterized by its counterattacking wing play, Troussier threw that out of the window and tried to have the team adopt a more patient buildup utilizing the central midfield to provide opportunities to the forwards who made runs behind the opposition’s defense.

While these are all necessary for a coach to have, the key difference is in the manner in which they are implemented. Philippe Troussier may have been an advocate for youth and experimentation but it was to a fault.

People might not know this but in South Africa, Philippe Troussier is known as the “White Witchdoctor” because of his strange tactical decisions and in France ’98, he lived up to his moniker.

Opening their World Cup against the strongest team in the group (and favorites of the tournament), Troussier opted for a five man defence to contain Le Bleu's attacking quartet of Youri Djorkaeff, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Stéphane Guivarc'h. With a defensive lineup of David Nyathi, Willem Jackson, Mark Fish, Lucas Radebe and Pierre Issa, the idea seemed solid on paper. The problem was that for all the experience the backline had, the youth in Pierre Issa came to shine. The 22 year old Marseille centre back was brought in as a sweeper to mop up any threats but seemingly overwhelmed by the occasion, he played his worst game for the national team by scoring two own goals to help France to a 3-0 win.

While it wasn’t a completely bad idea to try implementing a slow passing paced 5-2-3 to a nation who had historically prided itself on its 4-4-2 fast paced wing play, it was ridiculous to try implementing such a huge philosophy overhaul merely three months before the biggest stage they ever played on.

Other cardinal sins included:
• Playing a two man midfield of a willing but defensively lacking Quinton Fortune and an aging Shoes Moshoeu who was never a bustling player to combat a ball winner in Emmanuel Petit and a deeper lying playmaker in Didier Deschamps, affording the French complete control of the midfield.
• Not playing a defensive midfielder to mark the incredible Zinedine Zidane, allowing Zidane to run riot.
• Choosing to play Benni McCarthy alongside Phil Masinga and Brendan Augustine. McCarthy was the trait of both strikers, playing all three at once was overkill. Additionally because of Benni’s tendency to drift inwards to the centre, he occasionally found himself in Big Phil’s zone, leaving the left flank open. More so, Bixente Lizarazu (who was Benni’s man marker) had no problem with following Benni as he had played both as a left back and a centre back so any effort to catch him off his feet was futile. Petit also made it a point to come and help at the back if need be.

Troussier seemingly saw the error of his ways and, when the game against Denmark came along, opted for a 4-3-3 which became a 4-4-2 with Brendan Augustine dropping deep whenever Bafana didn’t have the ball. Dropping Willem Jackson for the Midnight Express allowed Bafana to have to wider midfield options along with Augustine and were it not for a goalkeeping error from Hans Vonk and an excellent (as per usual) performance from Peter Schmeichel, would’ve seen Bafana pull of their first win at the World Cup. However, the Danish held firm for a 1-all draw, leaving South Africa needing to win big against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Despite knowing that the team needed a big win against the K.S.A, Troussier went back to the 5-3-2. Only God knows why Troussier felt the need to field five defensive orientated players (six if counting Quinton Fortune) in what was a winnable game against what was the weakest team in the group but that, combined with conceding two penalties led to the match ending 2-all and South Africa getting knocked out of the 1998 FIFA World Cup.


Bafana Bafana, Football Soccer, History, Soccer, South Africa

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author avatar Memba Ben
A fan's view on the business of football.

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