Johannesburg - It should never have gotten to this. But then again our senior national team has always loved leaving things to chance. You would swear that living on the edge is in Bafana Bafana’s DNA.
Doing things the simple way is not something they know how to do.
And so here we are, chewing on our fingernails, crossing all crossables and calling on all kinds of deities for help as we anticipate the decision of the Fifa Disciplinary Committee on Safa’s submission that Bafana’s 1-0 defeat to Ghana was a manipulated match that should be declared null and void and a replay be ordered.
That would probably be the right thing to do for an institution that espouses Fair Play as one of its main values.
But it won’t be that easy for the world’s football governing body to overturn a match result and order a replay, the fact that there’s precedence which ironically involved our beloved senior national team notwithstanding.
Can you imagine the can of worms a decision like that would open? Defeats would no longer be readily accepted as they are.
Referees’ mistakes would be scrutinised and just about everyone will find a way to question a result and ask for a replay.
And believe me, it is not hard to find patterns in matches that can leave doubt regarding the integrity of a game.
But I digress, for as noble as our stance is on helping to ensure that corruption, match manipulation and match-fixing are rooted out of the beautiful game, the reality is that we should have foreseen such an ending to the qualifiers.
Those of us who have worked in this game for as long as we have knew from the moment the draw for the Fifa 2022 World Cup qualifiers was made that the battle for supremacy in Group G would be between South Africa and Ghana.
We knew too, that with the final group match being between the two countries out in Ghana, Bafana needed to have top spot already sealed by then.
I’d be the first to admit I didn’t expect as blatant a manipulation as what former referee Ace Ncobo pointed out last Wednesday. What I knew for sure though was that Ghana would stop at nothing to frustrate their adversaries, even before kick-off, with extreme gamesmanship.
It is what happens on the continent and with both CAF and Fifa literally having turned a blind eye to such for ages, the onus surely is on every team to find a way to work around such.
In Bafana’s case this time around, we should have ensured the match is merely academic before we made the trip to the Cape Coast. And we had the opportunities to do so.
Granted poor match officiating denied us a legitimate goal that would have seen us beat Ghana 2-0 instead of 1-0. It would have made for a better goal difference.
But we then failed to put both Zimbabwe and Ethiopia to the proper sword when they came to play us here and in merely beating them 1-0 we left ourselves vulnerable against Ghana.
Sure, we only needed to draw to progress, but we’d left Ghana a window of opportunity and in their own backyard they were always going to make use of it, be it by hook or crook.
Whether the Ghanaian Football Association were party to the match manipulation Ncobo is adamant took place last Sunday is a matter we can only hope Fifa will prove.
My assertion is that as a nation we have been in this game long enough to have known that the clash with Ghana would be tough.
Teboho Mokoena spoke of it at last Wednesday’s press conference at Safa House the SuperSport United player referring to his experiences with the junior national teams on the continent.
Armed with such, surely coach Hugo Broos himself no doubt familiar with how things are done on the continent having worked in Cameroon should have impressed on his team the importance of ensuring that the final clash with Ghana is merely academic.
That didn't happen and we are now left with having to hope that Fifa agree with us and order a replay.
Just ask Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns, our two teams who have conquered the continent. Dirty tricks have been part and parcel of the continental game for a long time. And that they succeeded was because they knew to work around them.
Pitso Mosimane learnt to stop expecting the continental football powers to intervene or stop the daylight gamesmanship that often border on match manipulation.
Instead he taught his team to man up and play just as dirty as the opposition.
Success followed, for once he could match them on gamesmanship, he knew he’d beat them in football.
I found it laughable that Ronwen Williams our national team captain
lamented the ball boys’ tricks that have been part and parcel of the game, even here locally.
Believe me, I would love to see Fifa and CAF rooting out the unfair practices that have beset African football for ages. After all, I was there when Shakes Mashaba and his Under 23 team were given a jalopy of a bus that lacked air conditioners for a road trip from the main city to the match venue over 200km away. I was in Sudan when Kosta Papic’s Orlando Pirates arrived at a training venue to find it locked and the caretaker nowhere to be found so they could not train. I watched the referee give a penalty that did not exist against Black Leopards in the DRC.
Such dirty tricks have to be rooted out of the game if continental football is to prosper.
But until that happens, I contest that the onus is on our teams to ensure that they do not leave things to chance like Bafana Bafana did in the qualifiers for Qatar 2022.