Johannesburg - Under normal circumstances this would have been a near-perfect year for Bafana Bafana, despite failing to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon. Winning their record-equalling fourth Cosafa Cup title, drawing them level with Zambia and Zimbabwe at the top of the all-time winners table, and also finishing the year on top of the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers should rank above failure to qualify for Gabon, but unfortunately this is not the case.
As a result, this year will go down as the one to forget for the senior national team. Bafana experienced mixed fortunes in 2016 and coach Shakes Mashaba is lucky to still have a job – for now.
(Update: SAFA confirmed Mashaba had been fired on Thursday December 22)
After surviving the chop following the team’s failure to qualify for the 2017 Afcon, Mashaba did the unthinkable and insulted his bosses. This was after Bafana had won their 2018 Russia World Cup qualifier against Senegal in Polokwane. Mashaba has since been charged with misconduct and bringing the association into disrepute.
To their credit, Bafana have mastered the art of winning friendly matches and this year was no different.
But they were found wanting when it comes to official matches. Of the six official games they played this year – four Afcon qualifiers and two World Cup qualifiers – they only won two.
While they do not lose more games, the many draws they play always hamper their progress – as was the case in the Afcon qualifiers. Bafana lost only once but also won one game and played four draws.
While the away 2-all draw against Cameroon could be regarded as credible, they failed to make their home ground advantage count when they dropped two more points against the same Indomitable Lions in back-to-back matches in April.
These lost four points put a serious dent in their qualifying progress as their fate was no longer in their hands.
Despite producing their best performance away in Gambia when they won 4-0, the results proved too little too late as they stood no chance of qualifying for the Gabon spectacle.
Their final qualifying game against Mauritania was just an academic one as the two countries had nothing to play for. Bafana failed to pitch as they could only manage a one-all draw.
After failing this mandate to qualify for the 2017 continental spectacle, it was expected that Mashaba would be shown the door.
But, he survived the chop and lived to see another day at the helm as he was mandated with taking the country to Russia in 2018.
So far he has vindicated Safa leadership’s decision to stick with him as Bafana are on top of their group after the opening two rounds on four points.
This after they got a draw in Burkina Faso before narrowly beating Senegal at home.
Before the game, Mashaba knew that his head was on the block and needed a victory to safeguard his job. His Safa bosses had already hinted that heads could roll if things continued as they had.
Then Mashaba landed himself in hot water after his touchline rant that followed Bafana’s 2-1 victory over Senegal, accusing the Safa leadership of not giving him enough support for him to succeed.
Now instead of basking in the team’s glory, celebrating his achievement and enjoying a peaceful festive season, Mashaba is involved in a disciplinary hearing, which he brought to himself.
A crunch year awaits Bafana as 2017 will bring huge challenges with the 2019 Afcon qualifiers, and, most importantly, four World Cup qualifiers which will determined Bafana’s Russia fate.
Bafana 2016 results
Bafana Afcon qualifiers results
Cameroon 2 -2 SA
SA 0 - 0 Cameroon
Gambia 0 - 4 SA
SA 1 - 1 Mauritania
2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers
Burkina Faso 1-1 SA
SA 2 -1 Senegal
Mozambique 1 -1 SA
South Africa 1-1 Ghana
South Africa 1 -0 Egypt
SA 3 -2 Botswana
SA 5 -1 Swaziland
SA 1 - 1 Lesotho