Bafana: bright fu­ture beck­ons

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

IS­AP­POINT­INGLY, the Nige­ria hoodoo re­mains after our na­tional foot­ball team, Bafana Bafana, failed to pro­tect a 2-0 that would have seen them reg­is­ter their first com­pet­i­tive vic­tory over the Su­per Ea­gles on Wed­nes­day. But that 2-2 draw should not be al­lowed to take away from the bril­liant work that coach Shakes Mashaba has done in turn­ing around the for­tunes of our coun­try’s se­nior na­tional team.

Bafana are go­ing to par­tic­i­pate at the Africa Cup of Na­tions fi­nals – not as hosts as has been the case pre­vi­ously – for the first time since 2008, and that feat should be cel­e­brated. That we qual­i­fied with a match to spare and un­beaten in all six matches makes the achieve­ment all the more spe­cial.

What we should be par­tic­u­larly pleased with, though, is the fact that qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the bi­en­nial, con­ti­nen­tal show­piece was achieved with a squad for the fu­ture.

For years, soc­cer fans have lamented the fact that coaches kept faith with un­der-per­form­ing, big­name play­ers. En­ter Mashaba and all that has changed – the new coach pick­ing his squad on merit and prov­ing that one need not be a Premier­ship player at a renowned club or over 25 years of age to get the nod.

Young­sters such as Ri­valdo Coet­zee, who is just 18, as well as un­knowns from lowly teams such as San­tos have been roped into the squad as Mashaba takes se­ri­ously Safa’s Vi­sion 2022 project.

The squad that has qual­i­fied for next year’s tour­na­ment in Equa­to­rial Guinea, if kept to­gether, can go on to rep­re­sent the coun­try at the 2018 World Cup with a good num­ber of them young enough to still be around for the 2022 show­piece in Qatar.

What South Africa must not do though, is al­low this early suc­cess – Mashaba was only man­dated to re­build the squad with the view to qual­i­fy­ing for the 2017 Af­con and 2018 World Cup – to have them ex­pect­ing too much.

Pres­sure should not be brought to bear on the squad to win next year’s tour­na­ment.

In­stead we should see the event as a plat­form for this young and gal­lant side to gain ex­pe­ri­ence that will stand them in good stead in the fu­ture.

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