Bafana cast a shadow over southern Africa

 

Harare – From being described as a “bunch of losers”, the tragedy of the murder of their skipper to the joy of qualifying for their first Nations Cup finals in six years, Bafana Bafana have cast a huge shadow over Southern African football this year.

A rollercoaster year, which started against a grim background of the team’s doomed African Nations Championship mission on home soil in January, straining Bafana Bafana’s relationship with Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, will have a happy ending.

The events at the Cape Town Stadium on January 20 this year, when Bafana Bafana crashed to a 1-3 defeat at the hands of Nigeria, to provoke an angry outburst from Mbalula that vibrated across the entire nation, now look like something from a distant past.

Before 36 000 fans, the home-based Bafana Bafana suffered a knockout blow, at the hands of Nigeria, to crash out of the CHAN finals they were hosting, in the group stages, and Mabula burst into a rage and tore into the team.

“Last night we saw a bunch of losers – unbearable useless individuals. We must never wake up to this,” the sports minister said.

“We, indeed, have a crisis of monumental proportions this tournament has proved. That mediocrity we saw yesterday is disgraceful.

“In Africa we have won nothing – we are the laughing stock. Even Madiba Magic would not have worked. This generation of players we must forget.”

But, 10 months down the line, Bafana Bafana have undergone such a stunning transformation, under coach Shakes Mashaba who was appointed in June this year, and they have not only qualified for the 2015 Nations Cup finals, after winning their group, but turned themselves into darlings of their nation again.

Mashaba won the Coach of the Year, at the South Africa Sports Awards, in Sandton on November 30, for his role in turning Bafana Bafana into a team that won twice, on the road, and drew once, in Nigeria, as they topped their group and qualified for the 2015 Nations Cup finals with a game to spare.

Given where Bafana Bafana were, just 10 months ago, the team’s transformation under Mashaba has been the stuff of fairy-tales and Mbalula told guests at the South Africa Sports Awards that this was a celebration of a “bunch of winners.”

That Bafana Bafana were some of the biggest winners, at the South Africa Sports Awards, with Mashaba being honoured as the best coach in that country this year, the irony of Mbalula’s comments could not be lost in the laughter that greeted his words.

“I have never made an excuse for mediocrity. I will never shy away from pulling an extravaganza to celebrate those who emulate the winning spirit of South Africa,” said Mbalula in Sandton on November 30.

“And today we have pulled-out all stops to do just that – not just to celebrate these stars but to encourage others to remain patriotic and represent this country.”  

Tragedy, though, stalked Bafana Bafana this year and the murder of the team skipper, Senzo Meyiwa, in a suspected botched robbery in Johannesburg, sent the nation into mourning.

The Orlando Pirates ‘keeper had not conceded a goal, in four Nations Cup qualifiers, when he was gunned down at the home of his girlfriend.

While South African football fans went through a full range of emotions, this year, their counterparts on the northern banks of Limpopo saw a year, which started with a lot of promise as their home-based Warriors came within a penalty shootout victory of a place in the CHAN final, only to finish fourth, will end with their football in the dumps after the national team failed to clear the preliminary round of the 2015 Nations Cup qualifiers, losing at the hands of minnows Tanzania.

Home Affairs deputy minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, warned on November 28, while speaking at a Division One Soccer Stars of the Year ceremony, that the Zimbabwe government could not continue to watch its flagship sporting discipline, drifting into the darkness, and urged the football community to stop the rot or face an intervention.

Zambia, as usual, qualified for another Nations Cup finals but after falling at the first hurdle in South Africa last year, and not really exploding until the final few games of the qualifiers, doubts remain whether this current generation can scale the heights of 2012, when they won the tournament, on their return to Equatorial Guinea next year. But all the other Southern African countries, save for Zambia and South Africa, failed in their bid to make it to the 2015 Nations Cup finals in a year in which the regional tournament, the COSAFA Senior Challenge Cup, was not held with Botswana pulling out at the very last minute.

Lesotho will feel they punched above their weight, to make the group stages of the 2015 Nations Cup finals, and it’s something they can build on.

But, a year after Orlando Pirates reached the final of the CAF Champions League, the big clubs from this part of the continent failed to make an impression in the tournament, with none of them making even the last eight, with both Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa and Dynamos of Zimbabwe being knocked out by eventual losing finalists AS Vita of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

December 2014
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