South Africa, the only team in Group G not to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, have made a good start to their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. After a 0-0 draw in Zimbabwe, they beat Ghana 1-0 to take the lead in the standings ahead of their double-header with Ethiopia in October. This was enough to satisfy their Belgian coach, Hugo Broos.
South Africa's coach Hugo Broos returns to Belgium after a successful series of World Cup qualifiers. ''There is a small problem with my work permit," says Hugo Broos. '' I had to come back to Brussels to provide documents to the South African embassy. Normally I will be back in South Africa on September 24."
Sport News Africa jumped at the opportunity to "borrow" the Flemish technician from his wife for a few minutes, time to talk about the (good) work started by the 2017 African champion (with Cameroon) in his new host country.
Sport News Africa: In an interview with Sports News Africa in June, just after your appointment, you said that four points after two games would be a good result
Hugo Broos: And we have these four points! It is positive. South Africa is the only team in this group that will not participate in the next Africa Cup of Nations. So we have quality opponents. Before these two games, I thought we would win in Zimbabwe, against an opponent without several of its players, and that we would draw against Ghana. Four points is good, it's excellent for confidence, for morale, for the mind. We have to take a maximum of points against Ethiopia in October, against an opponent who has interesting technical qualities, according to what I saw against Ghana (0-1), if we want to pretend to reach the third round.
Some players won't be here in October what is your analysis of these first two matches?
As I told you, I expected something else from my team in Zimbabwe. Some important Zimbabwean players who play in Britain were not able to come to Harare because of health restrictions. I think we could have done better. The team lacked initiative, confidence. I told my players that. And then, three days later against Ghana, I saw a different attitude. My players were enterprising, ambitious in the game. And we won logically. For us, beating Ghana, the group favorite, is very good. We're off to a good start.
In your list for the two September matches, you did not hesitate to leave out a number of key players, such as Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs, 91 caps), Dean Furman (Carlisle, 59 caps), Thulani Serero (Paços de Ferreira, 44 caps), Andule Jali (Mamelodi Sundows, 48 caps) and Thulani Hlatshwayo (Orlando Pirates, 52 caps), all of whom are in their thirties.
I was appointed at the end of May, with only one day left in the championship. There was a friendly match against Uganda (3-2). I said very quickly that I had come to rebuild something. For the matches in September, I made choices. That doesn't mean that the old players who weren't here won't be back. You know, I've been coaching for 33 years, I know a little bit about football, and I'm capable of saying to myself: "Oh, Hugo, you're doing something wrong, we have to change something! But at an equivalent level, between a young and an older player, I'll take the younger one, because I have to think about the future. The average age for the two first matches was 24. But I can already tell you that some of the players selected against Zimbabwe and Ghana will not be here in October.
Why won't they be there in October?
Because we have been together for ten days. There were the matches, which allowed us to get an idea of the level of the players, but also the attitudes in training, during group life.
How did you put together your list, knowing that you still lack real reference points for South African football?
There was the match against Uganda. I couldn't come because of the health crisis, but I followed it. Then there was the COSAFA Cup in South Africa last July, which was won by the local team, and I saw all the matches. I have selected several players who won that tournament. Before making my list, I had a lot of discussions with my assistant, Helman Mhkalele, with the local coach, Morena Ramoreboli, and with the coach of the Under-23s. Even though I don't read the South African press, I was told that there was criticism because I didn't call up some of the older players. In Cameroon, I heard the same things, and we won the CAN in 2017. Well, from what I understand, people here are very happy with the victory against Ghana, a team that South Africa has not often beaten...
What are your first impressions of South African football?
I'm still discovering it. I've seen championship matches in the stadiums and on TV. Already, in terms of infrastructure, it's very good. The stadiums are modern. The clubs seem, for the most part, to be well structured. The players are technically interesting. On the other hand, physically... I have seen players who were several kilos overweight, which is surprising... There is also the fact that the clubs' numbers are very large. There are 35 players per club, on average. That's huge. And the problem I can face, as a coach, is to have internationals who are not playing.
Have you met with the club coaches of the South African Premiership?
I wanted to do that, to get to know them, to learn a bit more about local football, to tell them how I work. I was told that it was not possible. Well... I had made the same request in Cameroon, and I was able to meet the local technicians.
So you are going to spend two whole months in South Africa, a country you are discovering little by little. How is your adaptation going?
It's going very well. I speak English, which makes it easier to communicate with the players, the technical staff and the members of the federation. In fact, when I speak Flemish, some of the players understand me, because there is a lot of similarity with Afrikaans, one of the languages of the country. I'm based in Johannesburg, where the federation is based, and from there I can fly around the country to watch matches. And the rest of the time I'll be in Europe to see the expatriates.