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Bafana's uncomfortable truth about home disadvantage

There is an uncomfortable truth for the South African national team. While most relish the opportunity to play at home, winning in front of their own fans in qualification matches has become a problem for Bafana Bafana.

Coach Stuart Baxter will be all too aware of the reasons why and he is trying to do something about, as evidenced by the friendly on Wednesday when he asked opponents AmaZulu to sit back and defend deep for 30 minutes.

The challenge was for his side to pick a way through a stubborn defence, something they have battled to do in qualifiers of late, but which the team will almost certainly come up against when they meet Libya in their latest Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Durban on Saturday.

Bafana have lacked the guile to break down teams and it has become a constant source of frustration for a succession of coaches.

Evidence comes from their last seven home Nations Cup qualifiers dating back to 2011, where a staggering five have ended in 0-0 draws, another in a 1-1 stalemate and a single, nervy 2-1 victory over Sudan.

They have been held at home in that time by minnows Sierra Leone, Gambia and Mauritania, all games they should expect to win, as well as tougher opponents in Congo-Brazzaville, Nigeria and Cameroon.

Knowing South Africa's skill-set, which includes quality passing and quick exchange of the ball, teams tend to come to the country and sit back, inviting the pressure and asking Bafana to make all the play.

It is a ploy that has clearly worked and one Libya will certainly use on Saturday, especially after the North Africans' coach Adel Amrouche sang the praises of Bafana in an attacking sense, though he was somewhat generous in his observations. 

"South African football has everything but, yes, they don't have a special striker who can finish off the chances," he told KweseESPN earlier this week.

"There are great wingers, midfielders, defenders who come forward at set pieces in the South African team. But let's be realistic, in Africa there are only five or six proper strikers.

"This is because the whole philosophy around the way the game is played in Africa has changed. Coaches now close the spaces to play, defence is so much better. The mentality of the game in Africa has changed and the focus is now much more on tactics. It has taken the place of creativity and technical skill. 

"But South Africa is a special team. They are unpredictable. South African players have that individual creativity that can make a difference in a game, with their skill."

It is not just in the Nations Cup qualifiers where South Africa have battled at home - their three World Cup preliminary games on home soil ended in two defeats and a stand-out 3-1 victory over Burkina Faso, a win which proved their potential.

If you add up the numbers and combine both qualification competitions since the start of the last World Cup preliminaries in 2015, it makes for dismal reading for Bafana.

The six matches have resulted in a single win, three draws and two defeats. With home-ground advantage so vital on the African continent, it is no wonder they have battled to qualify for major tournaments in the recent past.

Giving points to your opponents on the road is a massive own goal and it is something that Bafana must guard against on Saturday.

Baxter must hope that the likes of Percy Tau, Keagan Dolly and Kamohelo Mokotjo can come up with the magic to unlock a Libyan defence that have drawn nine of their last 19 games and will fancy at least another point this weekend, no matter what the gushing Amrouche says.


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