OPINION: Rwanda’s ‘waterbed’ was only part of Bafana’s problem
If a pitch is so sodden that you just can't pass the ball, you have to try and come up with some kind of alternative.
Water sprays up from the soaked surface as Olivier Niyonzima of Rwanda goes up against Sphephelo Sithole of South Africa in their World Cup qualifier on Tuesday. Picture: Julius Ntare/BackpagePix
First, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Or should that be the swimming pool on the pitch? The playing surface at kick off at the Stade Huye in Butare on Tuesday, for Bafana Bafana’s 2026 Group C Fifa World Cup qualifier against Rwanda, was an absolute disgrace.
This was an artificial playing surface, already heavily criticised leading up to the match, that was flooded with water following a torrential downpour ahead of kick off.
Surely it would have been prudent for the organisers to delay the start of the match, at least to clear some of the surface water? This was highlighted in the second half, where after a half-time sweep, the pitch became more playable.
On the other hand, a playing surface can only partly be blamed for Bafana Bafana’s capitulation in the early stages at the hands of Rwanda, a side that until Tuesday, had not scored a goal on their own patch in 26 months.
There is the old adage that both teams have to play on the surface, and Rwanda simply went out with tactics far better suited to the conditions than Bafana. South African head coach Hugo Broos said afterwards that he doesn’t have the players to play the “kick and rush” football of Rwanda.
No sodden solution
But simple pragmatism tells you that if a pitch is so sodden that you just can’t pass the ball, you have to try and come up with some kind of alternative.
Bafana’s players are used to playing a short-passing game, and on a friendly playing surface it can produce mesmerising moments, such as the slick football that led to Percy Tau’s early goal against Benin on Saturday at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.
This was a field, however, where pinging direct passes was the order of the day, as Rwanda showed with a two goal blitz in the first 30 minutes.
The home side were simply more switched on to the realities of the conditions, and this is, at least partly, a coaching failure on the part of Broos. Adapt or drown, was the order of the day on Tuesday, and Bafana drowned.