Johannesburg – Another disastrous Bafana Bafana performance has brought with it the usual hullaballoo, but there’s only one match that will really define our national team’s future.
That is the World Cup qualifier against Botswana next month and should Bafana win and Ethiopia fail to beat the Central African Republic, it would mean our side are in the home straight on the road to the Brazil 2014 championship.
The familiar howls – resurgent this week after a tumultuous defeat to Nigeria in Wednesday’s friendly in Durban – would then be postponed to October, when Gordon Igesund’s charges would face one of the other group winners over two legs to determine who becomes one of Africa’s five representatives at next year’s World Cup.
I know it would take a set of miracles of biblical proportions to happen but imagine, for a moment, if it somehow occurs that Ethiopia – top of Group A – fail to win against the CAR in Brazzaville on September 7, and Bafana sneak past Botswana on the same day.
And let’s say in the final round, our Bafana are drawn against a beatable side – Congo, who need three points to win Group E, for instance – and see them off, as was the case in 1997. This would trigger celebrations not seen since that year, when a Phil Masinga strike sent Clive Barker’s team to France ’98.
Igesund would then be feted as a national hero, in the same manner that Barker and his class of the 90s are still to this day.
The very players derided as overrated this week would then probably be in line to receive national orders, just like some in the African Nations Cup-winning Class of ’96.
While this would be most welcome to some of us wishing to see an end to Bafana’s humiliation, it would also serve only to paper over the cracks that have emerged since the turn of the century. It would also mean a pat on the back for our football’s leaders at Safa House, who would congratulate themselves on a job well-done.
They would boast that, indeed, Bafana’s problems were a consequence of the coaches they have fired over the years, and that one man, Igesund, magically resolved them in quick time by qualifying the country for the World Cup.
All this talk of development, founding new academies and youth structures would be consigned to the dustbin, just as it was when Bafana were succeeding without these anyway in the mid-90s.
Some among us would be happy at the prospect of travelling to Brazil to follow our national team, and would readily overlook that we made it only due to a costly Ethiopian error of fielding an ineligible player in their match against Botswana.
It is for this reason that, while I would love to cheer for Bafana in Brazil next year, I won’t be shattered if it doesn’t happen.
Failure next month should not be met with desolation, howls of anger and finger-pointing. Instead it should mean a fresh start for Bafana, with the focus firmly on Russia 2018.
The mandarins at Safa House do not even have to wait for confirmation of Bafana’s elimination from the race to Brazil.
They should be asking of Igesund and his technical team a clear plan of how they are going to ensure the team make it to Russia.
Igesund’s contract expires only next year, but, should his team fall short as anticipated, his future would have to be decided immediately – either offer him an extension, or find someone else.
Safa cannot wait until next year. They should assess Igesund’s record over the last year, which includes mandates that were not met, and tell us if he’s the best man for a job which, as witnessed this week, is increasingly becoming tougher on him than his praise-singers expected.
The match against Botswana would be so irrelevant were it not for Ethiopia’s gaffe, but once confirmation that Bafana are not going to Brazil comes through, tough decisions must be made.
*Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng