All of South Africa’s problems on attack were laid bare in their disappointing 0-0 draw with Libya on Saturday, with the home side unable to seriously test the visitors through the 90 minutes.
Bafana Bafana’s only shots on target were either straight at the goalkeeper or, in the case of a first half header from a corner, straight at a man as the ball was cleared off the line.
There was no criticism for the effort, the players certainly worked hard for the breakthrough, but when teams come and sit back against Bafana, Stuart Baxter’s side find it very difficult to pick them off.
It was a concern in the build-up to the game and things essentially went according to the pre-written script, though Libya will feel they probably should have got more from the game having hit the post from a simple chance and found home goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune an immoveable wall.
The team selection of Baxter from the start was odd with no target-man striker in a front three of Percy Tau, Keagan Dolly and debutant Vincent Pule.
It was something he changed at halftime, but the game was crying out for a figure such as the injured Lebo Mothiba, a powerful forward to outmuscle the organized and impressive Libyan defenders.
“It was a bit of an anti-climax in a way after we had so much of the ball, but we didn’t do enough to break them down,” Bafana midfielder Dean Furman told SABV TV after the game.
“They sat with players behind the ball, but we knew that was the way they were going to play. We tried to put ball into the box in the first half, but there was nobody really in there.
“We brought in Bradley in the second half and tried to add a bit more threat going forward. We kind of huffed and puffed but never really looked like we would break them down like we know we can.”
This is, of course, a familiar script for Bafana. Six of their last eight home Nations Cup qualifiers have ended in 0-0 draws and still there appears to be no solutions as to how to fix the problems.
“That is something we are going to have to come up against, teams are going to come here and sit behind the ball and we will have to be smart enough in the final third to break them down,” a grim Furman admitted.
“We are sitting on four points from two games, so it is not a bad return, but we are disappointed. We should be winning these games comfortably.”
Seychelles will be the next visitors and that will certainly be make-or-break for Bafana. The islanders have conceded eight goals in their two qualifiers to date and while South Africa would like goals to boost some confidence, back-to-back home and away wins are what is needed.
They will then also hope that Libya lose both their ties with Nigeria, with the top two sides in the pool advancing to finals in Cameroon next June.
If that scenario plays out then it will leave Bafana needing just a point from their final two games to qualify, which will be home to Nigeria in November and then, perhaps crucially, away in neutral territory against Libya in March.
What Bafana will not want is to have to travel to North Africa needing to either avoid defeat or, even worse, get a win against the Libyans, who proved on Saturday, and in the previous 18 months, that they are a very good team.
There is a long way to go in this campaign, but already Bafana are faced with a ‘no slips’ scenario and anything but six points against the Seychelles in a months’ time could also see Baxter come under fire from his bosses.
Injuries to key players over the next few weeks will be crucial, certainly they cannot afford to lose a Percy Tau, Keagan Dolly or Kamohelo Mokotjo, while there will also be the hope that the likes of Mothiba, Themba Zwane and Hlompho Kekana can regain fitness after missing this fixture.
But in truth, and with the greatest respect, if South Africa do not have the depth to get six points against minnows Seychelles then they certainly do not deserve to be in Cameroon in the first place.