Mark Gleeson

Lucky No 17 for Igesund?

2012-07-02 08:28
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
The number 17 seems to be a significant one for Bafana Bafana.

It is the jersey that both Shaun Bartlett and Benni McCarthy appeared in and between the two of them, they scored 60 goals for the country over the last 15 years. Siyabonga Nomvete, too, has played the occasional game in the jersey.

The national team’s 17th match was the dramatic victory over Zambia at Ellis Park on Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration day. The team were down at half-time before Madiba arrived to shake hands with the players during an extended half-time break and then watched as South Africa scored two quick goals to go on and win.

There were 17 players used when South Africa first embarked on their international journey 20 years ago in a three-match series against Cameroon.

Now, Gordon Igesund has become the 17th man to coach Bafana Bafana, hopefully bringing with him a change of fortune for the national team.

He has a tough task ahead. In six months there is the African Nations Cup finals but with home advantage, and flying a little under the radar with no recent form to put them among the favourites, there is no reason why South Africa cannot be continental champions again next February.

It may seem somewhat far-fetched but then so was the prospect of Zambia winning the last tournament. In a six-match, three-week tournament, the form book often has little bearing on the ultimate outcome.

Home advantage will hopefully be a significant factor.

Igesund has been told he must get to the semi-finals at least, a reasonable ask. He must also qualify the country for the 2014 World Cup, which is a little tougher.

Qualifying for Brazil 2014 has started poorly with draws against Ethiopia and Botswana. Bafana must effectively win their two remaining home games and draw away in the other two to win the group.

Then they will go into as play-off for a place in Brazil against one of the other 10 group winners.

Just who they draw will depend on their FIFA rankings and it is here where Nations Cup success is important.

Igesund’s ability to transform a team, to inspire players and to energise the team will be important. He is likely to be more attacking too.

He long ago deserved the chance to coach the side based on his impressive record at club level.

Four titles with four different clubs attests to his ability but the real clincher has been the way he turned around the fortunes of Moroka Swallows over the last 18 months.

That is what Bafana are seeking after a bleak period under Pitso Mosimane and a World Cup flop with Carlos Alberto Parreira.

International football is difficult and different, and Igesund will find his head buffeted from all sides by those wishing to influence his decisions. But if he sticks to doing what has made him successful to date, he has the potential to make Bafana the subject of pride rather than the current object of derision.

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

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