Doomed Mission Mzansi falls from grace
Harare – Bafana Bafana failed again, on home turf at the big stage, while Mozambique reaped no rewards for their industry, as Southern African football was again crudely exposed at the African Championship of Nations (CHAN).
It took just eight days, of a three-week football festival, to eliminate two of the region’s representatives, including the hosts, from a tournament that is reserved exclusively for players plying their trade in their domestic league.
Both Mozambique and South Africa only managed just one win, in six group games, with Bafana Bafana’s winner coming against the Mambas while the two neighbours failed to win a game against West African rivals Nigeria and Mali.
There were four losses, for the two neighbours, with Mozambique losing all their three matches and South Africa losing once, crashing to a 1-3 humiliation at the hands of the Nigerians when all they needed was a draw to qualify for the quarter-finals.
For Bafana Bafana, this CHAN tournament carried a lot of promise because while other countries couldn’t use their players, who play in Super Diski, the hosts had the luxury of using all their top players playing in the ABSA Premiership.
The rules of the tournament meant that while Zimbabwe couldn’t use their star players, with six of them, including talisman Knowledge Musona based at Kaizer Chiefs, Bafana Bafana could use their teammates like goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala and striker Bernard Parker. Their Premiership is the richest on the continent, awash with million-dollar sponsorship packages, while most of the top-flight leagues on the continent struggle for funding.
But Bafana Bafana, as they have so often done at the big stage, flattered to deceive and were humiliated in a first-round exit that many fear could destroy a tournament, which has already struggled to sell itself to the South African football fans, with empty stadiums set to be the story of the knockout games.
For a refreshing change, there was a huge crowd at the Cape Town Stadium on Sunday night as Bafana Bafana hosted the Super Eagles, which was in stark contrast to the poor crowds that have been seen at most of the matches, with more than 30 000 fans estimated to have poured into the Mother City’s premier stadium. Organisers, who had banked on a good run by Bafana Bafana to bring the fans to the stadiums, must have had their spirits cheered by the thousands who trooped to the Cape Town Stadium on Sunday night. To many of them, this must have felt as the turning point in their battle to win over the hearts of the supporters.
But no sooner had those hopes been raised, by the life and colour inside the magnificent stadium, were they were crushed, in ruthless fashion, by a rampant Nigeria that made a mockery of the cream of South Africa’s home-based stars, leaving the Rainbow Nation’s football fraternity in a spin.
Sipho Kekana, a News Producer on SABC Digital, read the last rites on South African football.
“Yes, SA football was on life-support for a long time and failing to advance to the knockout tournament of such a paltry tournament has provided further proof that, to revive it, we need to visit the cemetery,” he wrote in a damning article on the SABC website.
“So far, in order to rectify the decaying football state in the country, we have changed head coaches, assistant coaches, witnessed generations of players, hosted tournaments, etc, but yet, the rot has continued.
“What is perturbing is that some of those who are today surprised at Bafana's latest blooper are those at SAFA tasked with looking after our game. The very same people, without doing anything different, will be hoping Bafana Bafana will win the AFCON next year and the World Cup in 2018 and act all surprised again when we fail even to qualify.”
Questions, inevitably, are being asked about the competence of coach Gordon Igesund to guide Bafana Bafana, to the next level, after he failed to take the team to the 2014 World Cup, suffering the humiliation of being beaten for the final qualifying round by an Ethiopian team that had three points deducted from their tally for using an ineligible player.
Igesund also failed, badly, when Bafana Bafana hosted the 2013 Nations Cup finals as they crashed out of the quarter-finals.
South African Sports Minister, Fikile Mbalula, who watched from the VIP Enclosure as Bafana Bafana disintegrated on their home turf on Sunday night, described the South African footballers as a “bunch of losers” in a fierce criticism of the team.
“What I saw was not a problem of coaching, it was a bunch of losers,” Mbalula told a media conference in Cape Town last Monday.
“Their performance was not even lacklustre, it was useless. We must go to the drawing board. That mediocrity that was displayed yesterday… we must never wake up to that again.
“We indeed have a crisis of monumental proportions. We don't have a crisis of talent; we have a crisis of putting everything together.”
“I felt like just standing up and walking out. I saw people lining up after the game to greet them… I won't greet them, I didn't even call them.” Kaizer Chiefs midfielder, Tshabalala, who made a name for himself just four years ago with a wonder goal at the 2010 World Cup finals in the opening match against Mexico, apologised to the nation after their doomed CHAN mission.
“Personally, I would like to apologise to the nation on behalf of the team for not going through. We did everything we could but it was not good enough on the day,” Tshabalala told the media last Monday.
“It is very disappointing that we are out of the tournament being the hosts. We were hoping to advance to the quarter-finals and go all the way to the finals.
“We cannot point fingers at anybody but we need to forge ahead, hopefully we will be a better team going forward.
“It is honestly hurting – we are hurting and we know the nation is also hurting, and we are not proud of not doing well but we just have to apply ourselves better in future.”