Goalless, winless, pointless, Bafana’s Egypt Afcon humiliation
CAN’T SCORE; Can’t defend; Can’t win! That’s Bafana Bafana’s Egypt 2006 campaign in a nutshell. To think it promised so much? Coming as it did on the 10th anniversary of South Africa’s Africa Cup of Nations victory from 1996, the optimistic among us expected glory for Bafana. And the late Ted Dumitru gave the impression of a man set to stop the rut of the country’s pathetic Afcon form. In his inimitable way, good Ol’ Loud Mouth talked up our chances so much you couldn’t help but buy into the hype. His squad teemed with young, new blood – players hungry to prove themselves – and with his local championship pedigree of four championships (two of which he had just won back-to-back with Kaizer Chiefs), hopes of success sprang eternal. And when Bafana beat Egypt in Cairo on a rainy day, everything pointed to a glorious tournament to end the misery of previous ones that had seen us move from being champions to first round casualties in 2004. Then “The Master” delivered the quote of the year. “Gentlemen, the package is ready to be delivered,” Dumitru said, promising to bring home the trophy. That Bafana came home goalless, winless and pointless is a story even the lay soccer person knows only too well about. It was painful experiencing it first hand, though. Leaving Cairo for Alexandria, all of us South Africans were walking with a spring in our step – quick to let the Egyptians know we’re from that country whose national team had humiliated theirs in their own backyard. But beating Egypt was no guarantee we would cruise through the group stage where Guinea, back then ranked second on the continent, title holders Tunisia as well as our neighbours, Zambia, lay in wait as opposition. First up was Guinea who had the man mountain that was Bobo Balde, the centre-back who was playing for Glasgow Celtic at the time. To say he snuffed out the Bafana attack would be an understatement. At the end Bafana suffered a 2-0 defeat – Guinea scoring two late goals and old Ted clutching at straws for excuses. Before going to Egypt, Bafana had played some friendlies at home in the rain. And following that victory over Egypt in Cairo, Dumitru had spoken of how grand it was to have played in the rain. Yet when the Carthage Eagles hammered us 2-0, good old Ted was complaining about how hard it was for his players to see the ball in the rain. “We were disabled by the rain,” he said. Really? It was to get worse in the final group match played at the smaller Alexandria Stadium where it bucketed down throughout the game. Already out of the tournament, Bafana needed a facesaving victory or at least a goal to come back home with. But Chris Katongo scored the game’s solitary goal and I remember at the end of the match the big Bafana security Albert Hlongwane a bear hug that seemed to say “bye-bye Ted”. And so it was that we had our worst Afcon ever – goalless, winless and pointless.