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The Great French Escape - Lessons for Bafana 16/06/04
Our London corespondent, Thapelo Moloantoa of Shibobo Football, takes a look at the lessons which Bafana Bafana can take from England's last minute loss to France in Euro 2004.

They say its not over until the fat lady sings. This saying rung so true on Sunday for many an English people as France came from behind to escape the claws of an embarrassing defeat with an amazing 2-1 victory against England in the Euro Championships in Portugal.

The English led by David Beckham and the on-form Frank Lampard had thought that the game was in the bag with a 1-0 lead with two minutes to go.

But this was not to be as the great French kept the pressure up through out, playing short passes inside the danger area, mostly directed at Arsenals striker extraordinaire Thierry Henry.

The pressure finally paid off when they were awarded a free kick, which Zinadine Zizou Zidane (who else?) converted, leaving Englands keeper David James speechless and motionless.

The Real Madrid midfield general later scored an unstoppable penalty that sealed Frances historic victory. Drama.

What does this have to do with SA football? The lessons here are that firstly since we are involved in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers with no-name countries like the Cape Verde (against whom we won 2-0 in Bloemfontein) in our group many have concluded that our qualification will almost be automatic.

This is the type of mentality that Beckham et al. had with a 1-0 lead and two minutes to go but they paid the price.

Bafana should be careful not to be complacent as the nature of football is that we cannot judge opponents by looking at their position on the FIFA world rankings, thats academic.

The reality on the field is something else.

Secondly we need to have a player who can dictate the pace of play like Frances Zizou. The current crop of national players does not have a Doctor Khumalo, Lucas Radebe, Neil Tovey, John Moeti or Jomo Sono.

The kind of player who can lift the others when the going is tough and thats what Zidane did against England. Many ask what League champions Kaizer Chiefs would've done without the leadership, experience and tenacious determination Shoes Moshoeu.

Yes a team should not be built around one player, what happens if he can't perform on the day. Then in this case one should rely on a number of players who form the core and who have the ambition and will to carry the baton in the absence of a Captain Marvellous.

This has been very difficult to achieve with our post 1996 players, which brings us to another vital issue. The reality with our national set-up at the moment is that you have players who are frequently caught up in club vs. country dilemmas.

With a situation like this occurring all the time its difficult to have a player or core group of players on whose shoulders the hopes of the country will be carried as the manager doesn't know if they'll perform to their outmost best or even convince their clubs to release them for national team training.

The 1996 Africa nations team was a different crop. You had the Neil Toveys, Lucas Radebes et. Al who put in tremendous efforts into the Bafana shirt.

Legend has it that Jomo Sono was getting married on one Saturday in the early 80s and he went on to play for Pirates on the same afternoon of his wedding scoring a late winner for Pirates in the JPS Special Final.

Thats the kind of determination that has paid off tremendously as now Sono owns his own team in the Premiership and is one of the most successful coaches South Africa has ever had.

Lets hope that the enthusiasm that new manager Philip Baxter has brought into the team will inspire our players to take the bull by its horns and play their hearts out throughout the 2006 World Cup qualification games, whether this is against minnows like the Cape Verde or big football countries like Ghana.

Its not a fluke or pure luck that France managed to record such historic comebacks , it is a the result of commitment to
the national colours plus presence of outstanding character.

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