It is just under a year ago since Shakes Mashaba was tasked with building a new
team for South Africa in the wake of more than a decade of mediocrity in the
It was a task he took too literally, soiling the honour of playing for the
national team with the inclusion of a couple of academy kids in the squad, but
there was nothing to trip him up on while he enjoyed an extended honeymoon
through the first six months of his tenure.
Knocking defending champions Nigeria out of the African Nations Cup was one of
the bigger and better achievements from any South African side in a long time
but Mashaba made the fatal error of losing humility in the wake of this success
and fell flat on his face in Equatorial Guinea after making some vain boasts
about his side’s potential.
Instead of going on to win the tournament as he trumpeted they went home early
without a win.
Mashaba obviously did much right and much wrong and at the end of that cycle
will hopefully have learnt lessons.
Saturday marks the start of yet another two-year cycle as qualification for the
next Nations Cup finals in 2017 begin.
Again, Bafana have been paired with a
formidable opponent, this time Cameroon in a group in which only the winner is
guaranteed progress to the tournament in Gabon.
But there is a much softer start on Saturday against the Gambia, a country with
a population smaller than Durban, where the match is being played, and who are
placed 91 positions below South Africa in the rankings.
These days the draws favour the seeded sides who get a comfortable opening
match and Mashaba will be keen for his players to make the requisite impact.
Bafana are away at Mauritania, even lower in the rankings, in their next
Nations Cup qualifier in September but the crunch will only come in March next
year with two back-to-back games against Cameroon, which will certainly
determine the destiny of the campaign.
In tandem with the Nations Cup qualifiers will be the World Cup preliminaries.
Next month marks the draw in St Petersburg and in October the first matches on
the road to Russia.
That is the ultimate aim for South Africa and it is now essential the side
display an obviously upward trajectory.
January’s folly in Equatorial Guinea
must be turned into an ever improving efficiency.
A solid win over Gambia on Saturday will serve as the requisite foundation.
Mark Gleeson is a world-renowned soccer commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.
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