Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Bafana Bafana need to rediscover their roots

Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Ed Owen puts forward a case for how South Africa can get back to winning ways

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There is a scene in the Vinnie Jones film ‘Mean Machine’ where his footballer-turned-convict performs keepy-uppies before volleying the ball into the net.

But despite the applause from watching team-mates, Jones is unmoved, turns to the crowd and says that if you want to do that, you should join the circus.

In a nutshell, that was the problem plaguing South Africa on Saturday afternoon – there was too much Vinnie, not enough circus.

Despite possessing a great tradition of exciting attacking play, the Rainbow Nation seemed to consciously trade this excitement for an overly-defensive, timid display.

This style so inherently linked with Bafana Bafana but unceremoniously dumped that Johannesburg afternoon is called ‘piano and shoeshine’ – a product of apartheid days.

In the isolated environment of the black-segregated leagues, this entertainment-focused philosophy – a hybrid of short-passing ‘tiki-taka’ game and the dribbling skill of Brazilian ‘joga bonito’ – thrived.

Yet after the apartheid sporting boycott was repealed in 1992, piano and shoeshine was exposed on the international scene, branded tactically naive for prizing dribbling tricks above defending.

The critics had a point – the isolation and lack of international experience had turned Bafana Bafana into a parody of Brazil, better suited to exhibitions than football matches.

In a 1993 friendly against Botswana, Theophilius ‘Doctor’ Khumalo – given his nickname because of his precise ball control – balanced a ball on his foot in front of a defender, only to be robbed of possession.

But rather than chase his opponent down, ‘Doctor’ wandered to the bench for water, his attitude showing a necessity to adapt to the international standard of defence.

Yet Saturday’s listless display showed this defensive caution had gone too far, with flair and attacking instinct curtailed for rigidity and sprayed long-passes.

Bafana Bafana have moved beyond the tactical naiveté of their early years, and their current crop of players would never dream of emulating the Doctor.

But while a move toward defensive responsibility was necessary, Gordon Igesund’s men shouldn’t forget their own traditions.

Spain and Brazil have shown that when performed responsibly, these philosophies can work – against Angola, the Rainbow Nation need to find this balance.

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