I would be lying if I said I was surprised by headlines that followed the 2018 FIFA World Cup African zone draw.
All eyes were on the Cairo CAF headquarters as we held our breath to see what the soccer gods throw in South Africa’s direction.
Then voila! “Bafana get kind draw for World Cup Qualifier” screamed an online headline.
Then the South African Football Association (SAFA) chipped in with a press release titled: “Mashaba Happy With 2018 Fifa WC Draw”.
It all looked like a replay of a movie that one has seen so many times even to remember how many.
This has proved to be one of the major downfalls of South African football. Our nation has perfected the art of counting its chickens before they are hatched.
Every time - need I point out that we share this with the English - a draw is conducted, we are too quick to pronounce it “easy”.
When we qualify for a tournament, everybody from the coaching staff and thus automatically the football-crazy public, starts billing Bafana Bafana as favourites to win it.
We never learn.
Needless to say, we have just failed to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) that will be held in Gabon, failing to emerge from a group that had Mauritania, Gambia and Cameroon in it.
This time around, Bafana find themselves in Group D with Senegal, Burkina Faso and the Cape Verde Islands. These nations are no pushovers by any figment of imagination. More so, while in the AFCON qualifiers, the first, second and even some best third-placed nations qualified, only group winners will take the five berths reserved for Africa at the World Cup.
So it’s not going to be easy for Bafana.
While Mashaba was quoted in the SAFA presser saying: “I am very happy ...” I was relieved to see that he added a rider that: “But that does not mean I am saying it is going to be easy. We cannot take any teams lightly anymore.”
Glad also that he seemed to have learned from the mistakes of the past that included going into the Mauritania match blind-folded, having not done any research or homework at all.
This time around, an obviously wiser Mashaba said: “We want to be in Russia in 2018 and we won’t leave anything to chance.”
Wow! Light-bulb moment! Finally!
And then there was a positive outcome over the weekend with Bafana - or rather the majority of Rio Olympics-bound Under-23 players won the COSAFA Challenge (a Southern African regional tournament contested by 14 nations) in Namibia beating a stubborn Botswana 3-2 in the final.
It was a wise decision by SAFA to take this bunch of young and hungry players to this tournament.
If this has not been said and promised before, I would say this is a good sign of things ahead. It is a solid foundation to build for a strong Bafana in say, one-and-a-half-year to two years from now.
But I am not very optimistic as South Africa has lost so many such chances in the past.
If not, can anyone tell me what happened the entire Under-12 team that beat Poland 2-0 in the Danone Nations Cup in Paris in September 2003?
The only player we hear about from that group is the man who captained them, Kamohelo Mokotjo who plays for Dutch Eredivisie side FC Twente. The rest were allowed to fall by the wayside.
Need I say more?
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 over 30 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.
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