South Africa manager Gordon Igesund's five changes paid off big-time against Angola.
Gordon Igesund will always have a special place for Durban, and vice versa. The 56-year-old was born in this east-coast city, and it was here that he began a coaching career that would eventually see him appointed manager of the South African national team.
After a brief playing career in Austria, Igesund returned to Durban and in 1995 took over local side African Wanderers—a post that served as a stepping stone to a four-year spell at Manning Rangers, where he helped the now-defunct side claim the first ever Premier Soccer League title.
From there he went on to manage seven South African sides—including some of the biggest clubs in the country—and in June of last year succeeded Pitso Mosimane (Steve Komphela had served briefly on an interim basis) as South Africa manager.
On Wednesday he took Bafana Bafana, as the national team is affectionately known, to Durban for its second match of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. They dispatched Group A rivals Angola with ease, and the win had Ingesund’s fingerprints all over it.
Following a 0-0 draw in Johannesburg that played to the pessimists who had downplayed South Africa’s chances ahead of the competition, Ingesund made five changes to Wednesday’s squad—most notably a brave decision to bench popular Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala from the opening kickoff. Only Thuso Phala retained his place in the midfield, and Oldham’s Dean Furman was called into the side to run things in the centre of the park. Which he did to perfection.
The 24-year-old, who came through at Chelsea and played briefly for Rangers, was by far the dominant player on the pitch at Moses Mabhida Stadium—his confidence and composure on the ball giving South Africa a much different look than the anxious, sloppy side that struggled for a foot-hold against Cape Verde on Saturday.
Ingesund’s decision to drop Bernard Parker to a role on the wing was also inspired, and the Kaizer Chiefs attacker rewarded his manager by consistently beating the opposing full-back out wide.
But it was Ingesund’s substitutions that really won the day. With the second half about to begin, Helsingborgs midfielder May Mahlangu was replaced by Kaizer Chiefs playmaker Reneilwe Letsholonyane, and in the 58th minute Lehlohonolo Majoro—another of the Kaizer Chiefs contingent—came on for Malmo striker Tokelo Rantie.
Three minutes later South Africa were up 2-0, the two substitutes having combined for one of the more eye-catching goals of the tournament so far. Following a long, accurate pass arced over the defense by Letsholonyane, Majoro ran onto the loose ball, shook off Bastos as he turned sharply at the goal-line and finished with a neat shot between the legs of Angola goalkeeper Lamá.
Given Angola’s inability to create anything meaningful in attack, South Africa was never going to cough up a two-goal lead. Central defender Siyabonga Sangweni had given the host side the lead with a convincing, left-footed finish following a Parker free kick on the half-hour mark, and even then it looked as though a single goal might be enough to secure the three points—so poor were the Sable Antelopes.
Next up for South Africa is Morocco, who played Angola to a scoreless draw on Saturday and is facing Cape Verde in Wednesday’s second match in Durban. The contest could quite conceivably determine first place in the bracket, and it will be fascinating to see what Ingesund does ahead of a showdown of such magnitude.
Will he keep the faith in the team that delivered for him against Angola? Will he spring a surprise or two? No doubt the Moroccans are as keen to find out as the rest of us.