Bafana Bafana

Bafana shine after tough year

2014-12-22 06:52
Shakes Mashaba (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - While the murder of soccer captain Senzo Meyiwa overshadowed events on the field, Bafana Bafana finished on a high after starting the year at rock bottom.

The new era for the country's national teams began with a scathing attack by Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula, but ended on a high as three teams qualified for continental tournaments next year.

This switch in fortunes began when Bafana kicked off their 2014 African Nations Championship campaign - hosted in South Africa - with a convincing 3-1 win over Mozambique in the tournament's opening game, before following it up with a 1-1 draw with Mali.

However, this was as far as they got, following a heavy 3-1 defeat to Nigeria which condemned South Africa to a third place finish in the group. The team failed to make it to the knockout stage and this prompted Mbalula's outburst - labelling Bafana Bafana “a bunch of losers” - at the team's hotel the following day.

Poor display

Mbabula changed his tune later in the year when the South African senior national team secured a place in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), hosted by Equatorial Guinea, in January.

Nevertheless, the after-effects of the Chan debacle were not over.

National coach at the time, Gordon Igesund, was dragged into a messy spat with the SA Football Association for allegedly asking his players to demand bigger bonuses. Although later cleared by Safa, Bafana's poor display in the Chan tournament ultimately sealed the coach's fate and, in July, Safa declined to renew his contract.

Subsequently, former national coach Ephraim ‘Shakes' Mashaba - who at the time was guiding the under-20 national side - was named Igesund's successor.

Mashaba had already shone in 2014, grabbing headlines with his achievement with the under-20 national side (Amajita) - including steering them to African Youth Championships qualification.

Qualification campaign

This international showdown is set for Senegal in March where South Africa will need to reach the semifinals to qualify for the world cup in New Zealand later in year.

The under-17 national team (Amajimbos) are also set for an exciting 2015, having qualified this year for the upcoming African Championships in Niger.

This achievement, under the guidance of coach Molefi Ntseki, ended a seven-year qualification drought for the continental event.

Meanwhile, only a month after taking up his new position, Mashaba's first task with Bafana Bafana was to guide them in their 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualification campaign.

South Africa had already been dealt a tricky hand when, in April, Nigeria, Congo-Brazzaville and Sudan were drawn alongside them in group A of the Afcon qualification campaign.

However, in September, a new-look South Africa, under the leadership of Mashaba and his assistants Thabo Senong and Owen da Gama, travelled to Khartoum, where their first assignment was against an unpredictable Sudanese outfit.

Artificial pitch

Meyiwa was named skipper ahead of the game, in the absence of regular captain and goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who was injured. A popular choice, Meyiwa wore the armband for the next three games before his untimely death.

A youthful crop of players walked away with a thrilling 3-0 win over Sudan to kick-off what was to become a hugely successful Afcon campaign, where South Africa went six games unbeaten and qualified top of their group.

After Sudan, South Africa returned home to face their hoodoo side and defending Afcon champions, Nigeria.

A number of wasted chances could have seen South Africa walk away with a victory, but Mashaba and his troops had to settle for a goalless draw in front of a packed Cape Town crowd of 45 000.

In October, a double-header against Congo-Brazzaville got off to a flyer in Pointe Noire, where South Africa bagged a stunning 2-0 win in testing conditions and on an artificial pitch.

The return leg did not go quite as well, as Congo held their hosts to a frustrating goalless draw in Polokwane in what was Meyiwa's final game.

On October 26, the national captain was shot and killed by two intruders while he was visiting his singer and actress girlfriend, Kelly Khumalo, at a home in Vosloorus.

The former Orlando Pirates goalkeeper's death sent shockwaves around the world as players, teams and administrators as far as Spain came to learn about his tragic passing.

With the cloud of their former captain's death still hanging over their heads, Bafana dedicated their final two qualifiers to their slain leader, while Safa embarked on a campaign to call for the destruction of illegal firearms in his honour.

Narrowly missed out

South Africa booked their spot at next year's Afcon with a game to spare. A 2-1 win over Sudan in Durban in November took Bafana to the top of their group, where they would remain despite a 2-2 draw with Nigeria in Uyo, in their final qualifier four days later.

In his first three months in charge, Mashaba had ensured the country's participation in their first major tournament since 2008 and, in doing so, eliminated Nigeria who are now unable to defend the title they lifted in Johannesburg in 2013.

Meanwhile, Banyana Banyana's Portia Modise secured her place in history when she became the first African player to score a 100 goals in international football.

Her achievement capped off a year of mixed fortunes for the women's national team, which narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2015 FIFA women's world cup in Canada.

They finished fourth in the Caf African women's championship, with only the top three teams going through.

Read more on:    bafana  |  soccer

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