Football can really humble you. Having been in the trenches with the SA national team for more than 20 years, with various coaches and players, I was not charmed when the final Bafana Bafana squad, teeming with local players, was announced by head coach Hugo Broos.
I was one of those who were cynical and sceptical about Bafana’s prospects in the humid Ivory Coast conditions. I was convinced that they lacked Afcon experience and that they were going to be tossed out like a ragged doll at the tournament. I was adamant that they were going to get a beating akin to the one in a kangaroo court.
Judging by my previous sufferings and heartbreaks, I did not give them any chance. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bafana with all my heart, and I have travelled the length and the breadth of the African continent following the team.
The team, at some point brimming with some good players plying their trade in some of the biggest clubs in Europe, would promise so much and only deliver little, with first round exits becoming Bafana’s staple diet.
We were in Cairo, Egypt, in the 2006 Afcon and after beating hosts Egypt 1-0 in a friendly match a few days before the tournament, then SA coach Ted Dumitru declared that “the package was ready to be delivered.” You see, Dumitru was revered, he was seen as the demigod of South African football. His teams were known for their kasi flavour and for expressing themselves on the field and so, Mzansi football followers, including myself, couldn’t wait for Dumitru’s package to be unwrapped.
Mind you, the former Kaizer Chiefs coach’s team was brimming with Mzansi’s crème dela crème such as Benni McCarthy, Sibusiso Zuma, Siyabonga Nomvethe, Tsepo Masilela, Pierre Issa, Katlego Mphela, Mbulelo “OJ” Mabizela and Elrio van Heerden, to mention but a few.
Well, the tournament got underway, and we were all shell-shocked after the three group stage matches. The team returned home with its tail between its legs, without a point, without a single a goal and with three losses on the log table.
So, I just did not want to fall into that trap again with this year’s tournament. I learnt my bitter lessons. And this time around, the boys proved me wrong and are now in the last 16 stage, where they will meet 2022 World Cup semifinalists Morocco on Tuesday.
Broos’ unheralded young team made me eat humble pie and to never to underestimate the predictability of uncertainty. Their performance against Namibia was one of the best the country has ever produced at Afcon. Their game management against Tunisia in their last group match was commendable and impressive. We can only hope that they can progress as far as possible.
But having said that, South Africa is a country full of hypocrites. Where is all the excitement and the euphoria that enveloped the country during the Rugby and Cricket World Cups? The entire country came to a standstill, the schools, retail shops, the corporate and so forth were having “Jersey Fridays”. But why not the same with Bafana? As they say, “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others…”