It’s Happening Again

A journalist friend of mine once told me the problem with Bafana Bafana is that in order to qualify for a tournament there are always permutations. It’s happening again.

There was a time when South Africa reached World Cups and Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) events at will. Since limping to the 2006 AFCON in Egypt it has been a different scenario altogether. South Africa snuck into the 2008 AFCON in what was a very awkward qualifying system to begin with. Believe it or not the last time Bafana Bafana actually completed a qualification process successfully was in reaching that very same 2008 AFCON and it really was by the skin of their teeth.

The country was absent from 2010’s continental showpiece and then there was the 2012 fiasco. Pitso Mosimane thought qualifying for the tournament required a home draw against Sierra Leone provided Niger lost in Egypt. Well both outcomes materialised except Mosimane misunderstood the rules and the tame draw was enough to ensure Bafana Bafana would watch the 2012 AFCON on television. I spoke to a former national team player last week and he agreed that a coach not knowing the rules is a dismissible offence.

Instead Mosimane was allowed to continue but eventually the South African Football Association’s (SAFA) patience ran out. Enter Gordon Igesund, who should have had the job a decade ago. Honestly how South Africa cannot beat Ethiopia, Botswana and the Central African Republic (CAR) is beyond me but it’s happening again.

Having said that it should be noted that going into the qualifying process South Africa was easily the best-ranked team in the group but wouldn’t you just know it, that situation has also changed. So it’s not enough that South Africa seem to only qualify for major tournaments when they’re the hosts. Now they need other teams to field ineligible players to help to boot. It’s not Igesund’s fault. He was asked to save a sinking ship and while I’m confident Igesund’s team will beat Botswana in Durban on Saturday, I cannot see CAR avoiding defeat on neutral soil against Ethiopia. Yes, it’s happening again.

In case you didn’t get that Bafana Bafana have to beat Botswana and hope Ethiopia draw or lose in Congo against CAR. If, like me, you have that familiar sinking feeling it is because you know that it’s happening again.

SAFA’s in-fighting and trigger-happy reaction to the odd poor result by a coach is what I blame for all of this. You cannot have a new coach every 18 months over two decades and think it will not catch up to you. Earlier this year I interviewed SAFA President Kirsten Nematandani and asked him if SAFA would sack Igesund since he failed to deliver on the unrealistic mandate of reaching the AFCON semi-finals. A straight-faced Nematandani told me, “As a parent you want your kids to get A’s and B’s but then they come home with C’s and D’s. Do you throw them away? No, you don’t do that.”

It will not surprise me if Igesund is blamed for the country’s non-qualification and SAFA sack him.

It’s all happened before and I can see it happening again.