You can never accuse Gordon Igesund of pessimism. Whereas some of us fear the worst regarding Bafana Bafana’s performance in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations, our national coach has remained upbeat to the point that his overwhelming optimism borders on the unrealistic.
Since taking over as Bafana coach six months ago, Igesund has exuded confidence, refusing to accept that the tough mandate set by the SA Football Association – of reaching the Nations Cup semi-finals – is strenuous for a team who are only playing in this year’s tournament because they are the hosts.
This week, Igesund reiterated his belief that not only would his men meet the Safa mandate, he’s convinced the tournament can be won.
Yet, recent history tells a despairing story that will have cynics and realists questioning Igesund’s logic. Not since their victory over Benin in Tunisia 2004 have Bafana won a match in the continental finals. Subsequent tournaments produced well-documented and embarrassing failures, such as Egypt 2006 when our team could not score a goal or a point; and Ghana 2008 when they garnered a mere two points and finished bottom of a group including Tunisia, Angola and Senegal.
We then failed to qualify for Angola 2010 or last year’s event in Equatorial Guinea/Gabon, making our return to the championship this year only because political strife in Libya meant that country would never be ready to host.
This wretched background would have even the most careless of gambling addicts doubting if they should put their money on Bafana repeating their 1996 feat when they won the tournament on home soil.
Igesund, however, is not one to dwell on the negatives, as he stated this week: “I believe this team is capable (of winning the Afcon). Did you think it was possible for Swallows to finish second in the league after the previous season they had two points from 15 games? It can happen and I believe it will happen.”
This line of reasoning is, however, unlikely to convince sceptics. Igesund could also point to his tenure at Mamelodi Sundowns when he arrived at the club and turned them into championship winners in his first few months, but then was sacked the following year, having failed with the same side to match the exploits of the previous term. In any case, this is not club football, so drawing comparisons is misplaced.
It is notable that Igesund’s optimism is a complete departure from the realism of his predecessors. Pitso Mosimane used to bluntly admit to Bafana’s limitations, not least in front of goal, as seen this week when they returned a defeat against Norway when they ought to have cantered to victory.
In the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup, Carlos Alberto Parreira, when asked if he was confident Bafana would continue the history of all host nations overcoming the group stage, used to respond by saying “it will happen one day”, that a host country is eliminated in the first round. And it did happen merely weeks after Parreira’s initial warning.
Igesund’s mantra is different, however. To him, a spade is not a spade. That Bafana have such a poor tournament record doesn’t stop him from believing they can actually emerge triumphant on February 10 when the Nations Cup final takes place.
But many of us are not convinced they will even get that far. And unfortunately, Igesund hasn’t offered any tangible evidence for us to fall for his rhetoric. We cannot suddenly punt a team who’ve disgraced the nation for so many years as championship contenders solely based on the words of a coach who’s been in international football for six months.
I, for one, would be extremely happy if we beat Cape Verde next week. If we make it out of our group – which would be a first since 2002 – I’ll celebrate until thy kingdom come and acclaim Igesund as a hero. As for winning the competition … well, let’s just say I’m a realist. - Saturday Star
Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng