Let me start by saying ‘Shaaaaaakes’! If you did not know how to celebrate on Saturday after Bafana Bafana secured a spot in the sixteen that will take part in next year’s AFCON, you’re allowed. I was also stunned to silence when the final whistle blew. The reason is because we are not used to celebrating when it matters most for Bafana Bafana. It was something new that we were experiencing. What makes this even sweeter for us is that we did it without having to take out calculators, and instead it’s our friends Nigeria who are the ones who need favours to make it to the finals.
Let’s be fair, although we put the brakes on the celebrations a bit, we did expect the team to make it with some ease considering we had already beaten Sudan 3-0 away from home. Personally my reservations were rooted from the fact that we were yet to win a game at home. But in my heart of hearts I expected Bafana to get the job done. Now we just go to Nigeria probably give some other players in the team some game time. What better debut would it be for young Fagrie Lakay than against The Super Eagles? It’s the sort of day he’d tell his grandkids about in years to come.
Shakes Mashaba has made history in South Africa by becoming the first coach to ever qualify a junior team and senior team for African tournaments in the same year. He has whipped our team back into shape in just three months, when his set target was three years. He showed bravery when he came into this team with some serious spring cleaning, and I think he knew that it was either gonna work or not. He was probably not worried about the latter because we were struggling anyway, so it was not hard at all to improve.
So far Bafana have not lost a game in the qualifiers and two wins and two draws had put them in a very good place going into the match against Sudan. The game was dedicated to the late Senzo Meyiwa, the players knew that if they didn’t win, it would make things very difficult. This is another thing I was worried about, that pressure of having to win against Sudan to avoid going to Nigeria in need of points. I was a bit concerned in the first ten minutes as they looked a bit tense, Sudan even getting the first shot on target. That looked to be a thing of the past as soon as they warmed up to the game. When the team sheet came out on Friday night, it was a bit of a surprise to see Mandla Masango dropped in favour of Oupa Manyisa. For me it was a pleasant surprise. Masango is a very good player who has had his fortunes turned around this season, but God knows there’s no comparison between him and Manyisa. The Pirates playmaker is just more technically gifted, granted they are different players who play different roles.
The goalkeeping department was not really a surprise, with Darren Keet expected to start. The other position that was being looked at with red eyes is left-back, where Sibusiso Khumalo was assigned. In my view he had a very good game and should be largely credited for that first goal by Thulani Serero. Speaking about ‘Cream’, he was the best player we had out there on the day. He really showed why Frank De Boer was so worried the other day when he was going to face Barcelona at the Camp Nou without him. Serero’s vision and precise passing was key for Bafana, the pass he provided for Tokelo Rantie for the second goal was just class. It was also good for Rantie to score such a goal to just vindicate Shakes’ insistence on starting him. He was bordering on attracting the boo boys for himself. There really isn’t much I can say about Andile Jali and Dean Furman that hasn’t been said already, they don’t make it too hard for the coach to decide if they play or not. The goal that we conceded was a bit of a let down though, and it would have been nice to get through the qualifiers without conceding. Rivaldo Coetzee just went to sleep there for a second, but at 18, he’s allowed. He’ll learn.
I was a bit disappointed that Reneilwe Letsholonyane got only about five minutes on the occasion of his 50th appearance to Bafana. I think it could have been done a bit better to mark this milestone for a man who’s been such a loyal servant of this country. Yeye has always been available for Bafana, even when his mates acted up, think the Australasian tour in May this year. The great Doctor Khumalo played 50 games for Bafana, and that is the only game that he wore the captain’s armband. The same could have been done for Yeye.
knowing the humility of the player, he probably isn’t even thinking about it though, just celebrating with the team. Hopefully he will still be part of the setup for AFCON, and go have one last shot at glory in the national colours. Coach Shakes Mashaba has really done well to re-install our pride in out football team, and deserves a standing ovation. It’s not everyday we expect our team to win when they play the likes of Nigeria. We congratulate him and the entire technical team. Now we set sights on Equatorial Guinea come January.