at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund ended 2012 in bullish mood, desperate to get his overseas players under the same roof as his local contingent.
He said he needed as much time with them as possible so they could gel into a unit that may yet restore some pride in a team that have routinely let down the nation over the past few years.
The year 2013, with the Africa Cup of Nations and the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, is here, and Igesund has said that the results – certainly the losses – in his friendly matches last year don’t hold much importance.
That is one way of looking at it, but the nation will be of the opinion that Tuesday’s date with Norway is of real significance, as we will finally get a peek into what the coach’s charges will do when the African showpiece kicks off in less than a fortnight.
The time that Igesund has pleaded for has run out. It also ran out for the talisman that he held the door open for until the 11th hour.
Sadly for Igesund, Benni McCarthy’s return to the big stage was hamstrung and he will now have to draw the curtain on the big man and his tempestuous international career.
It’s a new year, and with it comes new possibilities for Bafana Bafana. Sadly, the arrival of Ayanda Patosi onto the international scene will have to wait a while longer. But Igesund’s squad still has a youthful sheen to it, and he has left out some experienced, in-form players to bank on young blood.
Thulani Serero, settled and thriving in the Dutch Eredivisie, has been backed by Igesund to provide the X-factor when the chips are down in crunch games.
This tournament has been the launchpad for many a successful career for African players, including the now crocked McCarthy all those years ago in 1998, and perhaps Serero will be inspired by the bright lights and grab the playmaker’s role vacated so easily by Everton’s Steven Pienaar last year.
More than anything, Igesund – and the tournament – needs a hero.
It needs a flagbearer and, seemingly, Safa have been too busy putting out fires to concern themselves with reminding their primary audience that Africa is coming for a get-together in a few days’ time.
The giants of Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria will arrive soon, and bring with them fans as vocal as the Malawi mob that took over the Moses Mabhida Stadium for much of the second-half in Bafana’s last outing of 2012.
But what the tournament really needs to spark it into life is a proper display against Norway in Cape Town on Tuesday, one which convinces supporters, at the 11th hour, that Bafana will not let them down this time.
It is a big ask, given that Igesund’s real focus is the tournament opening Cape Verde clash on January 19, but the dwindling ticket sales for the Nations Cup is worrisome.
Igesund now faces the biggest challenge of his managerial career. He needs to bring a nation together, while also getting his squad to play the way he wants – with pace and width and, hopefully, goals from Katlego Mphela and the supporting cast upfront. Already his players, led by skipper Bongani Khumalo, have spoken of the burden of living up to the class of 1996. It was inevitable that Neil Tovey’s side, who provided the fairy tale that a new South Africa needed, would be brought into the conversation.
Now, 16 years on, Khumalo and Co have the perfect chance to write a new chapter into the history books of the beloved, beleaguered Bafana.
And Tuesday’s game against Norway is important for that very reason.