Reigning Premier League champions, Bantu, suffered a shock defeat to a youthful and sparkling Matlama side in the Independence Cup Top4 semifinal played at Setsoto Stadium last weekend.
The 4-3 penalty shootout loss denied the Mafeteng-based outfit a fourth consecutive Top4 title, and the M100 000 top prize which went to winners Lioli.
After beating Linare 2-0 in the other semi, Lioli went on to win the tournament following an 11-10 penalty kick marathon against the very impressive Matlama.
However, there was some consolation for Bantu after Lazola Tjokotjokoane scored in the 1-0 win over Linare in the third-place playoff, to take home M40 000, while Matlama pocketed M60 000 and Linare M30 000.
Bantu’s loss to Matlama came a fortnight after a shock 1-0 league match loss to nine-man and basement side, LMPS.
In the two Top4 matches Bantu played last weekend, I could see some glaring shortcomings that the coaches need to work on if the team is to retain its league title and do well in the 2015 African Champions League.
Bantu lacked the required cutting edge in midfield and the striking department, with the defence and goalkeeping the only impressive sections of this once-formidable outfit.
Lazola was one of the most deadly strikers in his first season with A Matšo Matebele in 2013/14, but has now become ordinary, and is sometimes now hardly visible on the pitch.
It is quite clear that Bantu are missing the services of their injured striker, Tsebang Lebata, who scooped last season’s top goal-scorer award, which is why it is very unfortunately, from a Bantu point of view, that the hitman will not be kicking a ball until the end of the current season due to his knee injury.
Last season, Bantu won their first league title in 87 years after losing only once, and in addition also clinched the Top4 championship. After six league matches, Bantu are second on the 14-team Vodacom Premier League table on 13 points—three behind pacesetters LDF—after losing once, one draw and winning four.
While they say you are only as good as your defence, and not just your attacking might, parking the bus (defending to counter), the way Shale’s team is playing at times, is irritating to watch especially if Bantu is not your team and you are just a neutral spectator.
There are certain coaches who have the ability and the players to win and keep their jobs for a long time and who can also afford to be spectacular, which was the case with Shale’s Bantu last season.
It is true Bantu are the most tactically disciplined side in our league, especially their central defending duo of Thabo Masualle and Tlali Maile, while Thabiso Mohapi and Thapelo Mokhehle complement them quite well on the flanks.
But still, I think boosting the squad with two or three quality players would have been a good move for Bantu during the offseason, as they could have at least increased competition in the team, which I can see is now lacking and has led to complacency by some of the players.
Save for veteran defender, Katleho Lethabela and Likuena goalkeeper Kholuoe Phasumane who both joined from LCS, Bantu did not make any big-name signings as expected during the off-season, considering they would be taking on Africa’s best in the Champions League.
What is also worth noting is that some Bantu fans have been voicing their concerns, through social media (Facebook), whether it was worth supporting a team playing such “boring” football.
The same fans have been arguing that although Lioli and Matlama did not go past the first stage of the Champions League, at least they managed to register wins at home, while LCS drew against regular competitors, Dynamos of Zimbabwe.
The big question that one finds asking himself is should the supporters start worrying about their team or is it too early to press the panic button?
I can only say since I started following football, I have learned that as a coach, you cannot make your team play exactly the way you would want them to play. This is not PlayStation football but you base your strategy on the quality of the players you have, which might be the reason why Shale is failing to get the same brand of attacking football Bantu were renowned for last season.
That is why I feel what Shale is going through as he has to get the best out of the squad he has, so ‘parking the bus’ might the best option he has for now, until the management decides to boost the squad with quality players.
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