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Bafana Bafana miss out on yet another soccer showcase — this time the African Nations Championship

Bafana Bafana miss out on yet another soccer showcase — this time the African Nations Championship
Domingos Alexandre of Angola during the international friendly match between South Africa and Angola at Mbombela Stadium on 20 November 2022 in Nelspruit. (Photo: Dirk Kotze / Gallo Images)

Bafana Bafana have regressed exponentially in recent times. Their absence from the African Nations Championship, and missing out on the 2022 African Cup of Nations and World Cup, are proof enough.

Another international tournament is set to commence without South Africa’s senior men’s international football side.

Bafana Bafana are not part of the African Nations Championship (Chan), scheduled to be played in Algeria between 13 January and 4 February.

South Africa were eliminated by Angola during the qualification phase in September last year, following a 4-1 defeat on home soil, which resulted in a 6-1 aggregate loss after also being felled 2-0 in Angola.

The side’s absence has become increasingly and worryingly common for a country that took global soccer by storm in the early years after apartheid’s demise.

These days, they are a shadow of the team that rose to great heights between 1995 and 2002. So much so, that having missed out on both the Qatar World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in 2022, Bafana Bafana have now also failed to qualify for Chan.

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Just as they last qualified for the World Cup in 2010 as hosts, the South African men last qualified for the Chan tournament in 2014 — when they were hosts. They didn’t make it to the 2016 edition in Rwanda, or the 2018 showpiece which was held in Morocco. They were also absent in 2020.

Considering the prestige (or lack thereof) associated with the tournament, Bafana’s Chan failures could be excusable in another lifetime.

bafana mbombela

Zakhele Lepasa of South Africa during the international friendly against Angola at Mbombela Stadium on 20 November 2022 in Nelspruit. (Photo: Dirk Kotze / Gallo Images)

However, when one considers that their failures spill over to the World Cup and even the Afcon, it suggests a worrying trend for the future of South African football.

While Bafana played in the 2010 World Cup, the last time they qualified for the tournament on merit was back in 2002. In the Afcon, before missing out in 2022 when the tournament took place in Cameroon, they reached the quarterfinals in 2019. Prior to that, they missed out on participating in 2010, 2012 and 2017.

It is a far cry from the standard set by the generation of Bafana Bafana players who managed to clinch the competition in 1996, before claiming the silver and bronze medals during the 1998 and 2000 editions respectively.

What is Chan?

Bafana’s failures in this particular competition may very well be due to their being somewhat of a black sheep when it comes to international tournaments. For one, the only players that can be chosen by their nations are the ones based in their respective countries.

Then there is the not-so-minor inconvenience of it not falling within a prescribed Fifa window. This means domestic league clubs are not obliged to release their players to participate in the tournament — even if the action may bolster their countries’ chances of winning.

This is what Bafana Bafana head coach Hugo Broos alluded to when his team failed to book their ticket to Algeria. For the tournament qualifiers, the 70-year-old Belgian coach had handed over the reins to his assistant, Helman Mkhalele.

“It was very difficult for the coach to say which players could play in Chan. But then I saw that the Angolan team was in camp for a month. They played Cosafa and they played Mauritius. Then they played against us [in the Chan qualifiers]. We didn’t have the luxury of having a team together, in the beginning, to play both Cosafa and Chan,” Broos said at the time.

While Broos has a point, this does not explain Bafana’s other failures in the past.

South Africa’s Premier Soccer League (PSL) clubs have generally scoffed at the tournament since its first edition in 2009. The league’s teams have often refused to release their best players to take part in the competition.

As a result, Bafana have regularly been forced to rely on players who are on the fringes at their clubs — hardly the ideal conditions for participation in a continental tournament.

Moroccan blueprint

bafana chan

Morocco’s head coach Walid Regragui, his players and staff celebrate after winning the Fifa World Cup 2022 quarterfinal match against Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, 10 December 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Georgi Licovski)

Granted, Morocco’s recent success is down to a number of factors. However, their double-header success across the 2018 and 2020 Chan competitions cannot be ignored as key to their development.

With the consecutive wins, Morocco showed it has one of the best domestic leagues on the continent — an assertion backed up by their powerful showing in Qatar.

Jawad El Yamiq, who starred for Morocco during the 2022 World Cup, earned a move from Raja Casablanca to Italy’s Genoa following his showings as Morocco won their first Chan title in 2018.

A similar story can be told of Moroccan forward Soufiane Rahimi, whose market value rocketed during the 2020 tournament — earning him a move to United Arab Emirates giants, Al Ain.

This latest edition of Chan, which was initially scheduled for 2022, but was paused due to Covid concerns, has since been rocked by the news that the defending champions will not participate.

The development originates from long-standing political tension between Morocco and Algeria, which escalated in 2021 and resulted in the latter banning direct flights from Morocco to their country.  

Despite the airspace restriction between the two countries as a result of the standoff, the Moroccan Football Federation was insistent on a direct flight from Rabat to their base city in Algeria. With no response from Algiers, the World Cup finalists have reportedly pulled the plug on their title defence. DM

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