Bafana fans are nothing if not suckers for punishment
Here we go again – hoping against any logical form of reason that this tooth-grinding excuse for a national team can get its lazy-assed posterior into gear
Next Saturday’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Libya at Moses Mabhida Stadium represents the beginning of a new four-year cycle for Bafana Bafana, and the success the team will achieve in this period is as usual mired in uncertainty.
One would like to point to recent achivements of the junior national teams as holding great promise as Bafana aim to qualify for the 2019 Nations Cup in Cameroon, on a path to eventually hopefully reaching the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
But then one examines the performance of the five African nations all exiting in the first round of Russia 2018 two months ago. And we add that Bafana (Fifa’s influence on results or not), finished in last place, 10 points behind one of those, Senegal, from qualifying Group D.
And then it becomes clear that an obvious gap in class that needs closing still clearly exists.
And that’s the reality of it.Dressing up SA football’s situation – based on Mamelodi Sundowns’ first Caf Champions League victory in 2016 since Orlando Pirates in 1995, and junior teams reaching the 2015 Under-17 World Cup, 2016 Olympics (U-23s), and 2018 U-20 World Cup – is counterproductive.
Those developments are a huge improvement on a previous decade in which none of that happened.
But we need to start by addressing the fact that there still remains a chasm between the senior team, Bafana, being underachievers, and potential Nations Cup winners and World Cup qualifiers.
Vision 2018 has come and gone with limited success across a five-year timeframe from Danny Jordaan’s election as SA Football Association (Safa) president in 2013.
The junior teams’ qualifications have suggested there is finally some talent escaping the chokehold that was a result of the pathetic development initiatives that strangled SA football in the buildup to the 2010 World Cup.
But for Bafana, one Nations Cup qualification under Stuart Baxter’s predecessor, Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba, and then a first-round exit from a tough group of Ghana, Algeria and Senegal, is a disappointing return that gives only small hope that the stagnation is lifting.
Baxter appears to recognise that the African teams' performance at the 2018 World Cup, and Bafana's non-qualification, was an indicator that a gap exists, and that should Bafana reach Cameroon 2019, more than a first-round exit is needed to show some form of progress.
“I’ve done a report for Safa based on how every team at the 2018 World Cup solved the critical phases of the game,” Baxter said, announcing his squad for Libya at Safa House on Tuesday.“When I did the African nations I have to say that I was disappointed. For example Morocco, who I thought did quite well, and Egypt – they didn’t show real African football.
“I thought the African teams went there and almost played European. Played deep, parked the bus, hit on the counter. I would have liked to have seen our teams take on the rest of the world with an African flavour. If you’re going to fail, which they did anyway, at least let’s fail doing that.
“If I take that and I say, ‘Well look, what are we [Bafana] going to do?’ ... I am very concerned that we reflect South Africa in South African football. We have certain things that we are good at. We are mobile, we are quick, and we have good skill. Can we make better decisions? Can we be better structured? Can we be mentally stronger? Yes we can.
“But I want to add those things to what we are good at. I don’t want to replace them with playing some sort of pseudo-European, park-the-bus football that is neither entertaining nor winning.
“So, the lessons from the World Cup I think should strengthen that we have to create something that is efficient enough to be classed as, let’s say global; but South African enough that if we go to Afcon we take something that’s South African.
“And if we go through Afcon and get that experience, ensure that we are preparing to take something that can challenge and not just make up the numbers in an eventual World Cup.”
It’s encouraging that Baxter wants Bafana to play to a style that maximises the strengths of the South African game. But it’s also a little vague, actually, if we’re honest.The scepticism that surrounds Baxter stems from a disastrous 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. Taking over after Mashaba had drawn away against Burkina Faso and beaten Senegal, the bottom fell out with back-to-back defeats against Cape Verde.
Fifa’s annulment of the lone victory against Senegal because of a Ghanaian referee who had been bought by bookies, and not even South Africa, and the two more defeats against Senegal, followed.
Now Baxter has a chance at a fresh start. He has to win back the confidence of players who might be not so convinced any more following team selections in the 2018 campaign that backfired.
SA’s new four-year cycle starts against Libya, though in fact the real beginning came in an overlap in Baxter’s first game – the momentous 2-0 win against Nigeria in Bafana’s opening Cameroon 2019 qualifier in Uyo in June 2017.
There has been so little to cheer about for Baxter since.
Call-ups for veterans Clayton Daniels, Morgan Gould and Siphiwe Tshabalala in the World Cup campaign resulted in increasingly wooden-legged combinations and performances.
Baxter has lopped 18 months off the average age of his squad from the last 2018 qualifier away against Senegal. He needs to get the younger, quicker, hungrier Bafana he has selected to meet Libya playing to SA’s strengths of quickness and skill. It overwhelmed Nigeria. It can set Bafana on the path to Qatar 2022.
And as suckers for punishment, here we go again – hoping against any logical form of reason that this tooth-grinding excuse for a national team can get its lazy-assed posterior into gear.
Well. Let’s see.