United or not, Bafana Bafana failed to impress while in Mali
IF everything that happened on the periphery of the 2002 African Cup of Nations was pure bliss for us scribes, as mentioned in yesterday’s column, matters were not much fun for Bafana Bafana.
For one, their steady decline at the tournament continued as they were knocked out in the quarterfinals by the hosts. South Africa were defeated 2-0 by a Mali side led by Seydou Keita who had deferred from previously playing for France to representing his country of birth.
At that match, played in faraway Kayes, colleague Carl Peters had a laptop nicked – it wasn’t his, he had loaned it from colleague Stuart Hess – as he walked down to the pitch for post-match interviews.
Other than Bafana’s early exit, there was also that whole racial divide story within the side that they laughingly tried to brush off.
When City Press ran a story that the squad was divided along colour lines, the powers-that-be at Safa and the technical team staged a ridiculous show of unity at the start of the Monday training session that only served to confirm all was not well.
Upon the media’s arrival at the training ground, Bafana went into a huddle and performed a “we are united” drill that was so contrived it made them look silly.
Granted, such is the history of our country that it is almost always the case that people almost always gravitate to their “own” in situations in which there are a lot of people or groups.
And thus it was not surprising that the players mixed along colour lines.
The story caused such a storm back home that those of us in Mali were inundated with calls from radio stations wanting our comments.
I particularly found it laughable that Radio 702, which had been using my colleague Jonty Mark as its correspondent, suddenly found the need to talk to me instead.
And I couldn’t help but pick up that it wanted a black reporter instead of a white one to rubbish the racism claims. I politely declined to comment. After all, while I knew that the boys in the squad were united, what could not be hidden was the fact that coach Carlos Quieroz tended to overlook the likes of Thabo Mngomeni despite the likes of Quinton Fortune not performing well in the earlier matches.
Bafana drew goalless with both Burkina Faso and Ghana (on my birthday – and confirmed just why they should never play on January 24 as they never win) in their opening matches and needed victory in their final group match against Morocco.
And so Quieroz dropped Fortune for Mngomeni who had hitherto come on as a replacement, and the result was a resounding 3-1 victory over the Atlas Lions.
Mngomeni scored one of the goals, with Sibusiso Zuma and Siybanonga Nomvethe scoring the others.
But no sooner had Bafana got us excited than they sent us packing for home as they meekly capitulated to the hosts.
BBK (Bareng Batho Kortjaas) and I, filing for the weekend papers, were quick to rush to then Safa president Molefi Oliphant’s hotel to find out what Queiroz’s future was following the defeat, and Oli made it clear the Portuguese’s future as Bafana coach hung in the balance.
If Afcon 2002 was bad, Quieroz can at least claim to have got Bafana into the knockout stages, unlike the late Styles Phumo, whose 2004 team exited the tournament at the group stages.
I didn’t go to that tournament, but colleagues who were in Tunisia tell the story of the ridiculous training drills that had Phumo getting the players to play a game called “Cats and Rabbits”.
No wonder we fared as dismally as we did. Bafana got hammered 4-0 by Nigeria after a win over Benin and then drew with Morocco to finish third in their group to take an early flight home.
Surely the decline couldn’t get worse.
Or could it?