Build Bafana around Furman
South Africa will need to produce their best tactical display against Mali on Saturday if they are to have any hope of getting into the last four of Afcon 2013.
Man to man, South Africa does not have a prayer against Mali. Collectively, Bafana do not come close to a Mali side who still have 12 of the players who won bronze last year in their current team.
The graphic above shows how Ghana lined up against Les Aigles in last Afcon’s group stage game, which the Black Stars won. Mali’s lineup is strikingly similar to what they’ve had this year.
The attention has been focused on the physicality of Mali’s play in recent days. However, the West Africans are simply continuing a tradition of presenting big players in the competition. That is not new.
What is new about this particular side is their flexibility and consistency. However, even they have their weaknesses.
How they play
Mali play a 4-1-4-1 formation, ditching the 4-2-4 of last year. The emphasis, however, still rests on getting the ball forward to a big man up front. Last year Dembele was the big man. This time it’s Mahamadou Samassa of Chievo Verona.
That said, they have a versatile midfield capable of scoring goals from headers, set-pieces and out of nothing. There are five key things Bafana must do if they want to win.
1 Hold the ball and use possession
If Bafana want to frustrate Mali, they should hold the ball. After all, they are playing at home. Mali outplayed DR Congo (52 per cent to 48 per cent), Niger (53 per cent to 47 per cent) and it was no coincidence that they lost to Ghana, who had effective use of possession (46 per cent to 54 per cent). Short passes have not been Bafana’s problem but moving forward has been.
When they do, Bafana will now have to do something with the ball. The tendency to waffle in their own area is something that must be dealt with. The problem has sometimes been finding the key man to be the recycler or metronome. The best man for the job, in this South African setup, learned his football in England.
2 Build the team around Dean Furman
This will not be a popular decision but it’s the most pragmatic. The 24-year-old is the only player in the Bafana starting 11 who “takes one touch to release the ball, sometimes even half-a-touch”, in the words of Kaizer Chiefs’ George Lebese.
Furman is not fun to watch but he drives the team forward, which is what Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu has done in the two games in which Ghana have tactically beaten Mali in the past year.
His football education is different from the Bafana style that tends to lean towards showmanship and, in an Afcon that is increasingly becoming tactically stringent, the Oldham captain’s positional astuteness will be vital.
3 Play to your speed
Mali’s crop of Euro-tuned stars like swift defence to attack moves and rapid wing play. Bafana should do what they did against Morocco; dictate the pace. Allow Bafana’s wingers to attack Mali’s full-backs, where Molla Wague and Fousseni Diawara have not been very convincing.
South Africa may have home advantage but Mali have the midfield to dominate proceedings. The Mali story, which goes something like, “we are winning for our torn homeland”, is set to continue, unless South Africa play simple and effective football.
No shibobos and shoeshine football, please.
4 Avoid set pieces
For all his outstanding distribution, Itu Khune in Bafana’s goal is dodgy in aerial situations. As much as possible, Igesund should urge his players to keep Mali away from corners, free kicks and set pieces in general. They are taller and more proficient.
5 Target Keita’s temper
He is the undisputed leader of the team. No stat encapsulates this more than this one: by the time Seydou Keita starts against South Africa on Saturday, he will become the player, among all Afcon 2013’s 16 teams, to have played more minutes than anyone else in the last two tournaments.
He played every minute of their 2012 charge to third place and has not been subbed in all three group games. His powers of endurance are impressive for a 33-year-old but his temperament is workable. He complains about every decision he does not like and has earned a yellow card once already for that.
The home crowd in Durban will not faze them (they beat Gabon, in front of their fans, on penalties in the last quarterfinal). However, the referee can be susceptible to soft calls in favour of the hosts.