Bafana Bafana's record at the Africa Cup of Nations
Bafana Bafana’s steady decline as a power on the African continent is illustrated no more perfectly than in their record in the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).
From the heady days of the mid-to-late 1990s their fall from grace was at first gradual and then spectacular‚ and ultimately humiliating as they failed to qualify for three of the last five Afcon finals – with one of their showings in that time due to fact they hosted the tournament.
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The 2019 edition in Egypt shows a welcome return to form on the continental stage and while they finished runners-up in their qualification pool‚ they would have booked a slot as one of the best-placed runners-up had the tournament not been expanded to 24 teams from the original 16.
Three wins‚ three draws and just two goals conceded‚ one an own goal and the other a penalty‚ shows a solidity that has been missing all too often in recent times.
There was a time that Bafana were a feared force on the continent‚ always a contender for the top prize‚ garnering respect from Cape Town to Cairo.
That they have lost that is a frustration for fans and an indictment on the administration of the SA Football Association (Safa)‚ who have failed to provide the right environment for the side to shine.
From the famous first place finish in 1996‚ to second-place two years later and then third in 2000‚ the slide was gradual but noticeable nonetheless.
Still‚ they always finished among the medals.
A penalty shoot-out loss to hosts Mali in 2002 was a hammer-blow‚ which was ultimately used as an excuse to jettison coach Carlos Queiroz ahead of the World Cup that year‚ but perhaps not the disaster Safa made it out to be.
Since then the side has qualified for the quarterfinals only once – when South Africa hosted in 2013 and again lost in a shoot-out to Mali.
Their ultimate low came in 2006 when the team‚ under coach Ted Dumitru‚ lost all three group games without scoring a goal.
A few days before the tournament they had beaten Egypt in a warm-up match and Dumitru announced them ready to conquer Africa.
It was an embarrassing set-back that saw the team finish stone last‚ and cemented the view of many around the continent that the side were in terminal decline.
In 2008 they qualified but never looked like making it out of their pool‚ while in 2010 and 2012 they failed to reach the finals at all‚ on the latter occasion the scenes of players dancing in celebration when they thought they had reached the continental showpiece but misread the qualification criteria‚ remains taunting ammunition for opposition supporters.
They missed an excellent opportunity in 2013 under Gordan Igesund with their exit on home soil to Mali when the competition was ultimately won by a young‚ inexperienced Nigeria team‚ who beat an even less fancied Burkina Faso in the final.
Shakes Mashaba got the team to the 2015 finals‚ but his paucity of tactical acumen on the big stage shone through with a talented squad that appeared to be playing on team spirit rather than a strategy and ended 15th out of the 16 teams with a single point from three games.
The side were never close to qualification in 2017 as they finished a full seven points behind pool winners Cameroon‚ but an historic 2-0 in Nigeria provided the perfect start to the 2019 preliminaries and a base from which to build.