Brazil: Where Bafana blew it
Gordon Igesund (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - If anyone is tempted to suggest that South Africa need yet another of their notorious managerial shakeups in the wake of their failure to qualify for the next World Cup, they would do well to consider just what a kneejerk, unscientific reaction that would be.As it happened: Bafana Bafana v BotswanaGALLERY: Bafana's World Cup agony
Bafana Bafana’s African group was really characterised by their own tepid, pre-Gordon Igesund-era start: I would suggest that, more than anything, cost them advancement to the final round of qualification for Brazil 2014 by an elite handful of teams.
The national team were severely on the back foot a third of the way through their programme, courtesy of successive 1-1 draws with Ethiopia in Rustenburg and then Botswana in Gaborone: two points from your first possible six is a poor haul and only suggests you will be drawn into a grim scrap to try to advance.
That is exactly what happened, eventually leaving Bafana gut-wrenchingly short as they ended second to the surprise-package Ethiopians, who will create a real fairytale if they somehow make it to a maiden World Cup tournament in the atmospheric land of the samba.
South Africa finished two points shy in second, even after rounding off their own campaign in some measure of style by disposing of Botswana 4-1 at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday, and their goal difference was a little frustratingly five superior to Ethiopia.
If you had to select one game from the group to pinpoint as the occasion where Bafana worst botched it, I would venture the Gaborone first-round clash with the Zebras back on a sunny afternoon on June 9 last year, where two points were crucially surrendered in the stalemate after the visitors had stormed ahead via Morgan Gould’s firm header from a corner as early as the 14th minute.
Further gilt-edged opportunities to bury the country of a mere two million people came Bafana’s way before they retreated into their shells rather timidly, got the yips and almost inevitably conceded a damaging equaliser.
Soulless, lethargic and sinfully wasteful were some of the scribbled words I have revisited from my dog-eared old notebook in describing the national side while watching that game last winter.
For those wishing to bring out the emotional “sack the coach” chant, as so often happens in these situations, bear in mind that their opening group game had come in the dying embers of Pitso Mosimane’s violently faltering reign, whilst that equally disappointing Gaborone result was under the caretaker tenure of Steve Komphela.
So they were always playing catch-up from then onward ... and under Igesund’s charge you have to say that they made a brave enough fist of it.
Permanently (at least so it seems) shorn of the services of most revered player Steven Pienaar, who quit international football after Gaborone, the new boss has nevertheless steered Bafana subsequently to three wins and one loss in their four remaining group matches - nine points from 12, which in many cases elsewhere would probably be a strong enough run-in to see teams progress rather than be eliminated.
With the sartorially-conscious Igesund presiding over things, Bafana beat Central African Republic 2-0 at home and 3-0 away, and were again encouragingly free-scoring (not always a Bafana hallmark in recent years) in Saturday’s professional and polished enough closing performance in Durban.
For the record, I thought they were worth a gritty point, too, when they were instead cruelly beaten by the Ethiopians in hostile Addis Ababa - how on earth can the coach be held responsible when one of your forwards, Bernard Parker, nods in a game-breaking, freak 70th-minute own-goal so wretchedly spectacular in its manufacture?
It may be of little consolation to South Africans to learn that we have become the first host nation of the prior tournament not to make the follow-up one since Mexico – they had the 1986 tournament but then did not make the grade for Italia ’90.
But Bafana bowed out of their Brazil quest with heads held pretty high, having done everything they were required to do to themselves to attempt to sneak through a back door until the deflating result of Ethiopia’s clash with Central African Republic confirmed their fate.
Progress under Igesund has been slow, I give you that, but at least noticeable.
He must be allowed to keep building, brick by painstaking brick ... at least for the time being.
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