Super Diski Falls Flat … Again
Harare – They have the wealthiest Premiership in Africa and seventh richest in the world but South African football could suffer another major embarrassment this year by losing its special status in CAF inter-club competitions.
The national game, backed by the millions poured in by a galaxy of sponsors and a pay-per-view television giant, has failed to live up to expectations when it comes to success stories emanating from its football fields.
Bafana Bafana have failed to qualify for the last two Africa Nations Cup finals and, shockingly, could not even read the rules and regulations governing qualifiers for the last tournament as they prematurely celebrated qualification for the finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Images of Bafana Bafana players celebrating at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit after a goalless draw with Sierra Leone, when the reality was that Niger had won the sole AFCON ticket in their group, now represent the story of a game on its sick bed.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula is demanding answers from a SAFA leadership that just has no answers.
“We will look at the dismal performance of Bafana Bafana in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, which saw them fail to go to the tournament for the second successive time after missing out in 2010 in Angola,” Mbalula said recently.
“We are making this call (to SAFA) amid cries of the nation in recent performances of our national teams, especially Bafana Bafana.”
But there could be more depressing news for South African football.
The country is likely to lose one of the 12 slots reserved by CAF for countries with the strongest leagues on the continent and who can thus be afforded the luxury of fielding an extra team in both the Champions League and the Confederation Cup.
While countries outside the top 12 can only field one representative each in the two competitions, the elite can field two Champions League and two Confederation Cup competitors.
CAF reviews the performance of clubs representing each country in the two competitions over a five-year period, and this year is the last in the current window.
It means that by the beginning of next year, CAF will unveil a new list of 12 elite countries, reflecting performances in the past five seasons.
South Africa, Zimbabwe and Angola are the three Southern African nations that are part of the exclusive club of 12.
But that could all change next year and it is likely that the South Africans could lose their special place.
Orlando Pirates, the only Southern African club apart from TP Mazembe of the DRC to win the Champions League, are likely to bow out in the preliminary rounds after a demoralising 1-3 home defeat in the first leg against fellow Southern Africans, Recreativo do Libolo of Angola.
The Soweto giants were not only odds-on favourites to roll past their unfashionable opponents, but had some experts tipping them to even go all the way and win the tournament following an impressive domestic campaign last season.
Pirates won the treble, sweeping all the major honours on offer in a red-letter year for the Sea Robbers.
This had pundits saying the South African football kings could this year translate their home dominance to the continental front.
Orlando Pirates have acquired Benni McCarthy, who arrived from a successful spell in Europe where he won the Champions League with Portuguese club, Porto, and winger Luis Boa Morte, who impressed during his spells in the English Premiership.
But Pirates were torn apart by Recreativo and now have what looks like Mission Impossible to overturn the deficit in Luanda in a week’s time.
Black Leopards, representing South Africa in the Confederation Cup after reaching the final of the NedbankCup, are also on a knife-edge.
Leopards were held to a 1-1 draw by Zimbabwe's Motor Action at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane and now face a difficult, if not impossible, task on the artificial surface of Rufaro Stadium in Harare this coming weekend.
Refreshingly, there are some voices of defiance from the South African camp, even in this trying hour.
“This is football … even you in the media didn’t expect this,” Pirates’ administrative manager, Senzo Mazingisa, told KickOff.com
“We can do the same when we play the second leg. We will go back to the drawing board and try to come up with a better way to approach the return match in Angola.”
Zimbabwe's clubs, on the other hand, have performed impressively thus far.
Two of the three Zimbabwean clubs in action last weekend won their games with the third, Motor Action, stealing a draw.
Considering that all the Zimbabwean clubs were away from home and none lost, and all the South African clubs were at home, and none won, the magnitude of the strong showing by the teams from the north of the Limpopo is put into context.
FC Platinum, making their maiden appearance in the Champions League, powered to an impressive 4-2 away win over Green Mamba in Swaziland while Hwange, also playing their first game on the continent, thrashed Mafunzo of Zanzibar 3-0 away in the Confederation Cup.