DM168

SOCCER

The future looks bright for Bafana Bafana if they can maintain the current trajectory

Daniel Kofi Kyereh of Ghana challenges Bongukuhle Hlogwane of South Africa during the Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifier between Ghana and South Africa held at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium in Cape Coast, Ghana, on 14 November 2021. (Photo: Thabang Lepule / BackpagePix)

Regardless of the outcome of South Africa’s appeal to Fifa to have their clash against Ghana replayed, the players can hold their heads up after a valiant World Cup-qualifying effort.

When coach Hugo Broos touched down in South Africa, he inherited a Bafana Bafana team that had long lost the support of the public. Perhaps the Belgian’s biggest achievement in such a short time period is that South Africans care about Bafana Bafana again.

There were some who had completely thrown in the towel on the team after years of it deteriorating. There was another group on the opposite end of the scale who still supported the team – investing their time and energy into it, and being constantly rewarded with disappointment.

Then there were the supporters who were completely uninterested in how Bafana Bafana performed. They expected the team to lose before it even played, and were not moved whatsoever when the team won. They belonged in the majority.

With Broos at the helm, there is hope that things can change and that those with a negative or nonchalant approach to the senior national men’s team can once again be swayed back to supporting it.

Apathy

Speaking at a press conference held at the headquarters of the South African Football Association (Safa), Broos shared that he inherited a team shrouded in pessimism and hopelessness.

“I tried to evaluate the team and I decided to rebuild the team. The thing I noticed was that there were many older players in that team, players who were 28, 29, 30 years old,” Broos told journalists.

“That meant if we went to Qatar [for the 2022 World Cup], the squad would have been players of more than 30 years old. So, my decision was to try [to] find young players here in South Africa. Because when I saw the players who were abroad and I said that just because you are abroad, it does not mean you are a good player. Certainly, not when you don’t play,” reflected Broos.

Those older players, outstanding as some of them are individually and for their clubs, had been part of Bafana Bafana sides that had failed to qualify for the two World Cups following SA hosting the 2010 edition, when they played by virtue of being hosts.

They had been a part of a Bafana Bafana side that failed to follow up its promising display at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) – where they reached the quarterfinals – with qualification for the 2022 edition, which is taking place in Cameroon.

It was the fourth time in 11 years that Bafana had not made the cut in an effort to qualify for the biennial continental showpiece. They previously failed to qualify in 2010, 2012 and 2017.

“I heard when I got here that the mentality in Bafana Bafana was not good. But I saw a good mentality. Those young players were hungry. They wanted to prove something, to show something to me, but also to all of South Africa,” Broos said.

Despite his stated preference for young players, Broos is not against older players, as shown by him keeping Ronwen Williams and Percy Tau in the squad, who are both close to 30 years of age.

Keagan Dolly, 28, has also played himself into Broos’s future plans with his stellar displays since joining Kaizer Chiefs from French side Montpellier. With five goals and three assists in 10 DStv Premiership games, the midfielder was difficult to ignore.

Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos. (Photo: Thabang Lepule / BackpagePix)

Against all odds

For a team that Broos put together in a matter of months, with the help, local knowledge and expertise of one of his two assistants, Helman Mkhalele, this Bafana Bafana team has done reasonably.

Between Broos having to go back to his native Belgium to complete his vaccination process, then having to return to his country once more two games into Bafana’s World Cup-qualifying campaign owing to issues with his work permit, it certainly hasn’t been a smooth ride for this new-look side.

There have also been issues with local clubs, including a public altercation between the Belgian and Mamelodi Sundowns co-coach Rulani Mokwena after the Bafana coach accused South African clubs of trying to sabotage the national team.

There was also the incident of Broos being denied entry to the Orlando Stadium in September as Orlando Pirates clashed with Sundowns. The Premier Soccer League took ownership of that mishap by saying it had not made the necessary arrangements to accommodate Broos at the stadium.

In spite of all these challenges, as well as the fact that Broos is very much still tinkering and trying to find his best team and develop a style of play, Bafana Bafana put their best foot forward in these qualifiers.

The 13 points accrued by the team in Group G are the joint most, along with Ivory Coast, for a team not progressing to the third and final stage of the 2022 CAF World Cup qualifiers in Africa.

They are also the most points Bafana Bafana have won in this phase of World Cup qualification since the campaign for the 2002 World Cup, where they managed 16 points. They did it by conceding just two goals and keeping four clean sheets during solid defensive displays.

Admittedly, they could have scored more than the six goals they managed, and that would have probably seen them qualify over Ghana in their group. The positive, even from that, is that chances were created – just not dispatched. These are things that Broos and his technical team have a chance to improve on with time.

A window of hope

Although the probability is minute, there is a chance that Fifa may ask for Bafana Bafana’s clash with Ghana to be replayed. Needing a win or draw to finish above the Black Stars in their group, the South Africans lost 1-0 in Cape Coast, Ghana.

The South African Football Association (Safa) has since submitted a report compiled by Fifa-recognised and retired referee Andile “Ace” Ncobo to the governing body of world football.

With the report, Safa hopes to draw Fifa’s eyes towards what it claims is a deliberate influencing of the outcome of the make-or-break match by Senegalese referee Maguette N’Diaye and his assistants.

“My independent conclusion is that the referee in this match was blatantly biased against South Africa,” Ncobo told journalists at a press conference midweek. He said “90.9% of incorrect decisions against one team is a clear case of a match official unlawfully influencing and/or manipulating the course and/or the outcome of the match”.

Fifa has since acknowledged receiving the complaint and announced that it will be submitted to its disciplinary committee on 23 November 2021 for review.

Regardless of the outcome of said review, Broos and his boys can hold their heads up high knowing that they did everything to make it to Qatar. They should use this to fuel the team’s continued resurgence and hopefully it will see them being one of the teams competing for the 2023 Afcon. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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