United or not, Bafana Bafana failed to im­press while in Mali

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MAT­SHE­LANE MAM­ABOLO

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?

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