It has been a terrible weekend to be a South African of a sporting persuasion. Bafana Bafana will probably be secretly happy that the rugby side are out of the World Cup. They will have hoped we forgot about the nail-chewingly embarrassing scenes of celebration after their goalless draw against Sierra Leone on Saturday. Oh, but we remember. We remember all too well. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
“To do a Bafana” is a new term quickly coined on Twitter on Saturday. It means to take a very public and very premature victory lap, only to be humiliated moments later to discover that your glee was completely unfounded. The phrase was coined after Bafana Bafana players were broadcasted on television doing a celebratory jig after they drew 0-0 with Sierra Leone at the Mbombela Stadium, only to learn a few minutes later that no, they hadn’t qualified for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.
South Africa went into the final match of the Group G 2012 Afcon qualifiers needing to win against Sierra Leone and also needing Egypt to beat Niger to qualify without a doubt. And if Niger lost and South Africa drew, we’d still go through if our goal difference was better. As it happened, that logic was wrong. All because of a vital clause buried deep in Article 14 of the competition.
The crucial rule nobody had apparently bothered to inform the team about, states that in the event of equality of points between two or more teams, after all group matches, the ranking of the teams shall be established according to, firstly, greater number of points obtained in the matches between the concerned teams.
This meant ultimately, Group G was a three-horse race between Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone – all tied at nine points. Whoever obtained the highest number of points against the other two teams would go through. Niger managed six, while the other two only got five. If you’ve never heard of this sort of thing, it is because the international convention is to use goal difference to decide the winner between teams tied on points.
Even the coach Pitso Mosimane admitted he was confused – never words that inspire confidence. At a press conference after the game he said, “I’m confused. Just have a look at the table of the group now and see who is top of the group. Put points on the table now and tell me, are you going to put Niger on top now, even with our better goal difference? It’s very sad for South Africa because the country deserves to be in next year’s Afcon. I feel like I have failed.”
In a letter addressed to the Confederation of African Football, the South African Football Association gently asked them to ignore their own rules and qualify South Africa ahead of Niger.
“We have noted that CAF has announced that Niger has qualified in our group, despite South Africa finishing on top of the group in terms of goal difference, which is the universally recognised means of separating teams who are equal on points,” Safa said. “We understand that you are using rule 14.1 to make your determination. However, we believe the team finishing top of the log at the end of the competition is automatically determined at the end of 90 minutes play, and that the second place is determined by the other rules.
“We will lay out our objection more fully shortly, but in the meantime wish to signal that we intend to challenge this interpretation and application of the rules,” Safa’s wrote.
CAF would be quite within its rights to tell Safa to sod off, especially considering we will be automatically qualified for the 2013 tournament (why Afcon is played so frequently is a question that has no rational answer) since we exchanged hosting dates with Libya recently. Even that event was fraught with controversy – the South African and Libyan football bodies agreed we’d take the tournament in 2013 and Libya in 2017 to give it time to rebuild the country’s infrastructure – all without CAF’s by-your-leave.
The continent’s football body will be thoroughly sick of Safa’s way by now. We fully expect them to give Safa president Kirsten Nematandani both boots.
Which leaves us with the tricky problem of Bafana Bafana’s inadequate performance. In six qualifying matches, the team only managed two wins and three draws. We wouldn’t be here had they won one or two more. It really is that simple.
It is sickening to watch Bafana Bafana matches with calculator in hand. DM
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