Late in South Africa’s Olympic Group A opener against hosts Japan at the Tokyo Stadium on Thursday, substitute Kabomelo Kodisang turned out a bedazzling piece of skill that left the Japanese right back utterly befuddled.
The Braga man’s resulting cross came to nothing, but it was notable as a piece of attacking intent in a side that showed so little in this 1-0 defeat at the Tokyo Stadium.
If only, one was left wondering late in the game, South Africa had come at Japan like they did in the final 15 or so minutes, when Luther Singh also toe-poked a good chance straight at the ‘keeper and Teboho Mokoena curled a free kick wide of target.
As it was, David Notoane opted for an approach to this game that seemed from the off to be content with emerging with a goalless draw against the host nation. South Africa stood off when Japan had the ball, sitting deep and absorbing wave after wave of pressure.
And when they had the ball, South Africa’s transitions were not nearly incisive enough, with Evidence Makgopa plying a valiant but lonely trade up front, and Japan, unlike their opponents, busting a gut to win the ball back every time they lost it.
Ronwen Williams, Tercious Malepe and Luke Fleurs were all heroic in defence for the visitors, and for a while, after Japan had failed to strike from a lung-bursting start to the second half, it seemed South Africa might get a point.
But class, eventually told, as Takefusa Kubo bent in a beauty to give Williams no chance in the SA goal.
You could understand, perhaps, South Africa’s need for caution and defensive organisation against a Japan side passes the ball in mesmerising patterns all over the pitch. And yet, the time South Africa really grew into the game in any form was after Kubo had scored, as they were forced out of their siege mentality.
With difficult ties to come against France and Mexico in this group, Notoane may have to accept that for South Africa to succeed in this tournament, the best form of defence will actually be to get on the front foot earlier in the game.