Bafana Bafana have been left clutching at straws‚ needing to beat Gambia in their Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the Independence Stadium in Bakau on Saturday to stand even an outside chance of qualifying for Gabon 2017.
Why we should not care:
1. The national team‚ its coach Shakes Mashaba and its players have been telling us this is not necessarily a dead rubber. Thulani Serero said this week anything can happen in football and he’s had experience of that playing for Ajax Amsterdam in the past season‚ where they were pipped to the title on the final day of the Eredivisie by PSV Eindhoven.
Yes‚ if Bafana were to awake from their sleepwalk through Group M and give Gambia a thrashing – which would be SA’s third away victory in West Africa – and Cameroon‚ as Mashaba’s men did‚ took the plunge on that infamous plastic pitch in Nouakchott against Mauritania‚ the group would go down to the final day.
But even then South Africa still need to come home in September‚ give Mauritania a nice thrashing and hope Cameroon‚ who have not lost at home since 1975‚ do exactly that against the world’s 165th-ranked team Gambia.
There is a greater chance of a blizzard blowing into hell. Or Minnie Dlamini having something bright to say at the next PSL Awards.
For the record‚ Cameroon are on eight points‚ Mauritania seven‚ Bafana 3 and Gambia two. Cameroon and Mauritania both have a +2 goal difference‚ South Africa and Gambia -2.
2. Even if it does come to the final day‚ South Africans are tired of having their hopes raised and then dashed again by this most fickle‚ most uninspiring‚ most devastatingly inconsistent of national teams.
Remember the 2010 World Cup? Bafana were still in with a ridiculously slim outside chance against France in their final group game‚ and went 2-0 up by the break needing a 4-0 win‚ but the 2010 hosts could not score again.
In the last World Cup qualifiers Gordon Igesund’s men were even given a lifeline by Ethiopia fielding an ineligible player. Bafana duly thrashed Botswana but results elsewhere did not go their way.
Leaving their fate in other teams’ hands just is not the way to qualify for major tournaments.
This team needs to start winning consistently because it is losing the support of the nation.
Why we should care:
1. There are important group stage qualifying matches of the 2018 World Cup in Russia starting in October. Bafana under Mashaba showed they are actually still capable of qualifying for a major tournament reaching the 2015 Afcon finals unbeaten‚ at the expense of Nigeria. They could do with a timely lift again now.
Hopefully Mashaba and his technical team have learnt from their mistakes not researching the opposition‚ which appear to have cost South Africa so dearly in this campaign.
It’s an old school‚ and frankly quite insulting‚ concept that you will travel to African countries to meet their national tams and win by imposing your own style and gameplan‚ without having researched their strengths and weaknesses. And frankly Bafana just are nowhere near the strength level to have that sort of arrogance in their approach.
But if mistakes are learnt from‚ and an analysis is performed of what went right reaching 2015‚ and what wrong not reaching 2017‚ then there is perhaps hope for the World Cup qualifiers.
Just look at the goal Hlompo Kekana scored against Cameroon in the 2-2 draw in March. One cannot claim this team does not have talent.
2. It’s the national team of the biggest and most important sporting code in the country by far‚ that impacts particularly on the lives of the working class‚ the poor and the unemployed.
Unlike rugby and cricket’s tiddlywinks World Cups‚ Bafana Bafana compete in the biggest sport in the world by far‚ played at a serious level by just about every one of the world’s 200-or-so countries. Even the Americans are getting in on the act.
We can be hard on Bafana. We should be hard on Bafana. They should perform so much better with the treatment they get – the best training facilities‚ coaching and backroom‚ dietary‚ medical and fitness staff‚ the best hotels‚ travel and transport and VIP escorts everywhere they go.
This must be the most pampered team in Africa. Perhaps that’s the problem. So yes‚ we should be hard on them‚ because they should reward the country better.
But we also cannot forget the scale of the sport they compete in. More countries in Africa alone take football seriously – no‚ rather are bat-shit‚ get-naked (and supporters in Africa sometimes do)‚ with the endorphin levels of a hippy at Woodstock‚ crazy about it – than all the countries in the world do for cricket and rugby.
We love Bafana Bafana. We have to. These are our country’s footballing heroes‚ and if they are going through a slump that makes Rip van Winkel’s 20-year sleep seem like a power nap‚ we’ll suffer along with them.
That’s what football fans do. Live and dream in hope of the better days to come.