Here's why Bafana Bafana disappointed despite going the whole year unbeaten
Bafana Bafana were unbeaten in 2018‚ and the new striking star South Africa has been crying out for appeared to emerge in Lebogang Mothiba‚ but there still lingered an air of disappointment about the national team’s overall performance.
No result could crystallise that emotion more than the 0-0 2019 Africa Cup of Nations draw against Seychelles in Victoria on October 16.
A win against the team Bafana dismembered 6-0 days before at FNB Stadium would have seen the South Africans all but qualified.
The draw‚ and a far more promising stalemate‚ 1-1 against Nigeria in November at FNB‚ left South Africa far from certain of qualifying‚ needing a draw against Libya – probably in Tunisia – in March.
Stuart Baxter has quite probably been saved by the bell‚ with South Africa proposing to step in as hosts of a 2019 Afcon finals tournament (from June 15 to July 13) that the Confederation of African Football (Caf) stripped from Cameroon in late November.
Because Bafana’s chameleon character‚ their propensity to wilt under any form of pressure‚ and the fact that they could not even beat Libya at home‚ surviving some real scares for a 0-0 draw at Moses Mabhida Stadium in September‚ had left the public skeptical of a result away.
One defensive lapse‚ one goal conceded‚ and surely South Africans’ hearts would have been broken again.
And then‚ like Baxter‚ whose excuses for under-performances at times in his now 19-month tenure have at times been pitiful‚ the country would have been left clutching at straws to find the positives in yet another non-qualification.
The first-ever win against Nigeria at the start of the qualifying campaign in 2017‚ the draw against the Super Eagles‚ South Africa going unbeaten in the group until Libya‚ and unbeaten for the year (apart from a penalties defeat against Madagascar in the Cosafa Cup) – such cold comforts would have all been wheeled out.
The players‚ who at times have performed very well technically under Baxter‚ and at others reverted to fragility‚ mental or otherwise‚ seemed quite certain they could get something away against Libya.
But how often in the past‚ pre-Baxter too‚ have they‚ only to find out otherwise and disappoint? Now we will never know.
Now it is time for Baxter‚ and Bafana‚ to take the lessons of 2018‚ and turn them into something meaningful‚ some sign of progression‚ with at least a place in the final – matching their female counterparts – at the 2019 Afcon especially if it is on home soil.
Anything less‚ even a semifinal‚ is not enough.
Bafana have already flattered to deceive when previously the country stepped in to host an Afcon‚ Gordon Igesund reaching the 2013 quarterfinals and losing on penalties against Mali.
That never proved a catalyst to anything.
Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba appeared to make a breakthrough with qualification for Equatorial Guinea 2015. But he then failed to reach Gabon 2017.
That was followed by Baxter’s failure to reach World Cup Russia 2018‚ the fragility rearing its head with defeats against Cape Verde Islands.
Baxter entered 2018 reeling from those disasters in 2017‚ and the public backlash of it.
A greater emphasis on youth‚ which the coach appears to claim has made life difficult in terms of results‚ has in fact brought an energy to Bafana.
Their Four Nations friendly tournament victory in Zambia in March – beating Angola on penalties and the hosts 2-0 in the final – saw much-needed injections.
Notably Mothiba‚ then freshly-returned from Valenciennes in Ligue 2 to Lille in Ligue 1‚ scored in his first two international games.
Bafana lost on penalties against Madagascar in their opener at the Cosafa Cup in Polokwane in June‚ and Baxter continued to whinge about press criticism and lack of acknowledgment for introducing youngsters. But his selections in the match were poor.
Still‚ more youngsters such as Teboho Mokoena and Lebogang Maboe were blooded or gained experience‚ as Bafana recovered to good Plate wins against Namibia (4-1) and Botswana (3-0).
That two of the new bloods (Mothiba and Mokoena) scored in the 6-0 Afcon win against Seychelles showed the benefits of their introduction. But the draw in Victoria was an abortion.
From the three steps forward‚ two back‚ stop-start 2018‚ Bafana remain where they started – a team with potential. But at least some talent has emerged‚ which could be crucial for Afcon 2019.
The team has a striker‚ and a monstrous one‚ in Mothiba.
The kind the country has been desperate for. His four goals in his first six international games‚ and free scoring since his transfer to Strasbourg‚ show this to be a striker of genuine potential.
Mothiba can provide the focal point in attack so often missing for Bafana‚ in front of the equally exciting Percy Tau‚ whose development continued in 2018 with a move to Europe‚ albeit on loan in the Belgian second division‚ and beautiful goals and assists for South Africa.
The pair give a sharp end to a midfield of real potential central candidates Kamohelo Mokotjo‚ Dean Furman and attackers Bongani Zungu‚ and attackers Sibusiso Vilakazi‚ the burgeoning Themba Zwane and Keagan Dolly.
They all give Baxter some weaponry‚ backed up by one of Africa’s best goalkeepers in Itumeleng Khune‚ that just might be able to surprise even their now understandably skeptical own country as hosts of Afcon 2019.
Bafana Bafana’s results in 2018 –
(Record: P-10 W-4 D-6 L-0)
International friendly - South Africa 1 Paraguay 1‚ Moses Mabhida Stadium
Afcon qualifier - South Africa 1 Nigeria 1‚ FNB Stadium
Afcon qualifier - Seychelles 0 South Africa 0‚ Stade Linite‚ Victoria‚ Seychelles
Afcon qualifier - South Africa 6 Seychelles 0‚ FNB Stadium
Cosafa Cup plate final - South Africa 3 Botswana 0‚ Old Peter Mokaba Stadium
Cosafa Cup plate semifinal - South Africa 4 Namibia 1‚ Old Peter Mokaba Stadium
Cosafa Cup quarterfinal - South Africa 0 Madagascar 0 (Madagascar win 4-3 on penalties)‚ Peter Mokaba Stadium
Afcon qualifier - South Africa 0 Libya 0‚ Moses Mabhida Stadium
International friendly (Four Nations final) - Zambia 0 South Africa 2‚ Levy Mwanawasa Stadium‚ Ndola‚ Zambia
International friendly (Four Nations semifinal) - South Africa 1 Angola 1 (SA won 6-5 on penalties) ‚ Levy Mwanawasa Stadium‚ Ndola‚ Zambia