If anyone had told you at the beginning of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying campaign that Bafana Bafana would finish at the top of Group A that has Nigeria in it, you would have looked them straight in the eye and asked: "Are you crazy?"
Let alone that they would go right into the heart of the West African country and come within a whisker - make that two minutes, of five added by the referee - of beating the living daylights out of the defending champions.
By the time you read this column, it will now be history that the 2-2 draw put paid to Nigeria's dream of defending the title they won here in South Africa in 2013.
Hats off to Shakes Mashaba for restoring pride in South Africa's national football team by guiding them through qualification without a single defeat.
But lest we forget, such was the state of our national football team that when Mashaba was appointed - in what seems to be just yesterday - he was not even given a task of qualifying the team for the tournament by his bosses at the South African Football Association (SAFA), but to mould it for the 2017 event and the 2018 Soccer World Cup.
But Mashaba, not a stranger to performing near-miracles - he is the first coach to qualify a South African junior team (the Under-20's) for a World Cup, the Under-23's for the Olympic Games where they beat Brazil and easily qualified Bafana Bafana for the 2004 AFCON - took to the task with great relish.
Bafana were guaranteed a top finish - which should help them avoid some of the big guns when the final Afcon Draw is conducted on Wednesday, December 3 - even before their final Group match against their nemesis, the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
Mashaba's brevity was evident from the onset when he selected a bunch of young and some untested players in his initial squad.
The two away wins over Sudan and Congo-Brazzaville played a pivotal role in ensuring qualification for next year's tournament that was initially scheduled for Morocco, but will now be held in Equatorial Guinea.
The team only conceded their first goal in the 2-1 home victory over Sudan, five games into the campaign and this was largely thanks to Senzo Meyiwa who had kept a clean sheet in all four opening matches.
His tragic death robbed Bafana Bafana of a solid goalkeeper and a highly-motivational captain.
Now Darren Keet has let in three goals in the last two Bafana Bafana matches.
While that will be regarded as a minor bump, it is one of the aspects of Bafana Bafana's games that Mashaba will have to attend to ahead of the tournament that starts on January 17.
It cannot be dismissed that Itumeleng Khune's injury and Meyiwa's passing, have left Mashaba with goalkeepers who are greenhorns when it comes to the international stage.
It was for this reason that some even called for Moneeb Josephs to be hauled out of his "retirement" from international football.
There has also been an over-reliance on Tokelo Rantie for scoring goals. For the team's success, all players from strikers to midfielders need to chip in with important goals.
The most successful teams are those where even defenders score goals from set-pieces.
Goalkeeping and goal-scoring are two areas that Mashaba must attend to if we are to dream of the team bringing back the AFCON trophy home from Equatorial Guinea.
Ironically, just as in 1996, should South Africa win the trophy, Nigerians will say it is because they were not in the tournament. But this time, we will look them in the eye and tell them that we actually eliminated them.
Thanks Shakes Mashaba!
Question: How far do you think Bafana Bafana will go at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea?
S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.
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