JOHANNESBURG - Our sport reporter list the big five on the South African soccer scene for 2018.
Banyana Banyana’s World Cup qualification
The senior women’s national team made history in Ghana by finishing second in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon) to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in the country’s history. Banyana Banyana exorcised the demons of Namibia in 2014 in the process. With T-shirts declaring “Canada here we come”, in anticipation of booking a ticket to Canada for the 2015 World Cup, Banyana crashed and burned in the third place play-off.
In Ghana they made sure they didn’t have to go through that ordeal again by securing their qualification early through advancing to the final. Banyana were lethal in the tournament, thumping Equatorial Guinea and stunning Nigeria to top Group B and then beating Mali to reach the final. The only disappointment was that they couldn’t become African champions in the process, losing the final to powerhouse Nigeria.
Free State Stars’ Nedbank Cup
Ea Lla Koto were burning the pockets of the Mokoenas so deep that the club’s chairman Mike Mokoena begrudgingly sold the club to avoid running it into the ground and jeopardising the family’s finances while trying to save Stars. Mokoena revealed that they were injecting R12 million from the family business to keep the club afloat. It made business sense to sell, even though his heart wasn’t happy. As fate would have it, that sale didn’t go through in 2016. Two years later Stars won South Africa’s premier knockout competition, the Nedbank Cup, and earned a spot in the CAF Confederation Cup for the first time.
Their African sojourn might have been short-lived but the Bethlehem side can boast about having represented South Africa, for a moment, on the biggest stage. Mokoena was understandably emotional in Cape Town at the sight of his team winning their first trophy in more than 20 years.
Baroka FC TKO giants
Baroka coach Wedson Nyirenda has the midas touch. The Pastor, who is also a published author, wrote his name in Bakgaga’s history books by giving them their first trophy in the elite league. Baroka had to beat Golden Arrows, Mamelodi Sundowns, defending champions Bidvest Wits and Orlando Pirates to lift the Telkom Knockout trophy. It was a tough route that made the victory even sweeter for a team that made their name by slaying giants in the 2011 Nedbank Cup.
In Nyirenda, they have an giant slayer who has made history with every club he has coached. He gave Zambia’s Zesco United and Ferroviario da Beira of Mozambique their first league titles, something their fans didn’t even think about in their wildest dreams. Bakgaga would have also never thought they would survive such a tough route to claim their first trophy.
Benni McCarthy’s first trophy as a coach
The all-time Bafana Bafana top goalscorer has enough medals to start his own mine following his glittering playing career. The most precious medal in that lot was undoubtedly the Uefa Champions League winner’s medal he received at FC Porto. But that medal is now probably the second most precious after the MTN8 ring he received for guiding Cape Town City to glory at the expense of defending champions SuperSport United. The MTN8 is the first trophy McCarthy has won as a coach.
Citizens boss John Comitis took a gamble by appointing an unproven McCarthy, but just like any challenge the Capetonian has faced, he tackled it head-on with bravado and came out victorious. His appointment was a breath of fresh air as Comitis gave a young coach a chance instead of regurgitating a has-been, as is the norm.
Percy Tau signing for Brighton & Hove Albion
For a long time it didn’t seem like this move would happen with Mamelodi Sundowns playing hardball. Tau’s agent even went to the papers to say that the Brazilians were negotiating in bad faith as Brighton & Hove Albion had met their initial asking fee. All parties eventually came into an understanding and the reigning South African Footballer of the Year signed for the English side. It was a big deal because of the dwindling number of South African footballers abroad. Tau has to make his way to Brighton via the Belgian second division due to him not meeting the requirements for an English work permit.
While many people lament his downgrade to Belgium’s lower ranks, Tau has taken it in his stride and has grown intellectually in a place where he had to convince foreign eyes of his talent. In no time he will be in England as his Bafana caps are increasing and he is starring for Union Saint-Gilloise.
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