The class of 2016 may not have beaten Brazil but after a steady start are poised to go one better than the class of 2000, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
The class of 2000 will always be remembered as one of the most talented sides ever assembled in South Africa. Players like Quinton Fortune, Benni McCarthy, Aaron Mokoena, Steve Lekoelea, Jabu Pule, Matthew Booth, Siyabonga Nomvethe, Delron Buckley and Stanton Fredericks would go on to become household names. Fortune, McCarthy and Mokoena all played Premier League football with McCarthy even claiming Champions League success.
Despite their wealth of talent, the 2000 side failed to build on a dramatic 3-1 win over Brazil and were bundled out of the tournament after failing to beat either Japan or Slovakia. I recently sat down with Quinton Fortune, who told me more about that side …
‘We were pretty disorganised but we won that match on raw talent after being told “just go out and play” and without a word spoken, the team just played the only way we knew. It was a great moment in our lives to beat Brazil.’ said Fortune.
The likes of Keagan Dolly, Abbubaker Mobara, Lebo Mothiba and Gift Motupa would all have made the 2000 squad but under the guidance of Owen da Gama and his technical team, they proved against Brazil that they know how to stick to a gameplan. Barring Mothobi Mvala’s moment of magic, the South African handled everything that was thrown at them by players who ply their trade at clubs like Barcelona, Manchester City, Lazio and PSG.
Now comes the hard part.
Da Gama must bring his team back down to earth and ready for their next two encounters. Neither Iraq nor Denmark shone in yesterday’s earlier game and the technical team may well be surprised that it was Iraq who were the unhappy side after the goalless draw. What will please Da Gama is that he doesn’t need to change his tactics for his next two encounters, the side has already earned a point against the best opposition in group A.
What is required now is calm heads and clinical finishing. Lebo Mothiba was unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet and it would be unwise to relegate him to the bench. His work rate and ability to hold up possession will prove invaluable in allowing the likes of Menzi Masuku and Dolly to burst forward.
Dolly is in the form of his life. His display against the hosts was sublime and he looked like a seasoned pro against some very good defenders. But in saying that, everyone who started (and finished) against Brazil left the pitch with an enhanced reputation.
The young South Africans look the business but the game, as we all know, is often lost due to a moment of madness or a unforced error. South Africa survived Mvala’s moment of madness, now it’s time to take advantage.
A place in the knockout phase has never been within closer reach.