Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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A Bafana Bafana Skin

South Africa National Team Logo

And so it is that during the spectacle of a winter World Cup, hosts Qatar have made history- just not of the sort they wanted, having to leave their own party early after a return of one goal in three games. Mohammed Muntari's strike against Senegal in their second match of Group A fixtures probably the one bright spot following an opening defeat to Ecuador and signing off in similarly abject circumstances against Holland.




Much has, and probably will, be written about the legacy of the country's participation on the biggest stage in international football- but what of the men whose unwanted place the Maroon have taken in the history books? For that, we have only to look to the year FIFA announced that Qatar would host in 2022- 2010, and the country selected to play host back then following a bidding process open only to teams from one continent, Africa.



Beating off competition from Egypt and Morocco plus a joint bid by Libya and Tunisia, South Africa did the honours, helped no doubt by the campaigning of Nelson Mandela no less who used the memory of his experiences while incarcerated in the infamous Robben Island prison to give his country a bit of heft following a four- vote win over Morocco.



This was later implied to have been secured thanks to a spot of bribery. Chuck Blazer's testimony to the FBI and Swiss authorities around five years after the conclusion of South Africa's moment in the sun suggested that he and others on FIFA's executive committee had taken bribes in order to favour their bid over that submitted by the Moroccans, and the Daily Telegraph suggesting that the winner had actually been Morocco.



Indeed, after it was confirmed they had earned the right to host, Mandela would get his hands on the famous old trophy having declared that the beautiful game had "made us feel alive and triumphant despite the situation we found ourselves in". All whilst harking back to his darkest days in looking ahead to a better future for what was in retrospect, much like Qatar, a relative youngster in international footballing terms thanks mostly to its divisive apartheid policy...



The country's first (all-white) football association, the Football Association of South Africa (FASA), had been founded in 1892. Three others sprung up for the Bantu (SABFA), Coloured (SACFA) and Indian (SAIFA) populations in 1933, 1936 and 1903 respectively, the end of the second Boer War the same year seeing the FASA also re-affiliate with the English FA.



By 1953 they, alongside Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, were seeking greater African representation within FIFA's higher echelons, winning their fight and forming the Confederation of African Football (CAF) within three years. However, a hitch soon presented itself during the planning of the first- ever African Cup of Nations, as South Africa's constitution of the time forbid mixed-race teams, something rightly unacceptable in the eyes of the other CAF members, and so South Africa withdrew.



They were then expelled altogether in 1958, though FIFA itself actually admitted the FASA as a member with a two year deadline to end its discriminatory policies.



Having failed to do so it was then booted out in the September of 1961 before being re-admitted two years later after the ascension of Sir Stanley Rous to the head of world football's biggest table and his contention that if the ban were not lifted, football in the country would suffer.



The Soweto Uprising of 1976 led to formal expulsion- only the formation of a mixed-race South African Football Association towards the end of apartheid in 1991 was enough to get them back into the fold and thus able to compete in the African Nations and World Cups going forward. The 7th of July 1992 was the momentous date of their first match back, beating Cameroon 1-0 in Durban.



Qualification for the 1994 World Cup and indeed African Cup of Nations (AFCON) ended in second and third placed finishes, not enough to get them over the line. Perhaps the first sign that progress had been made was the honour of hosting 1996's Cup of Nations, albeit stepping in for Kenya.



Nevertheless, Group A started well for Bafana Bafana, beating Cameroon 3-0 before a 1-0 win over Angola and 1-0 defeat to Egypt, enough to take them through above the Pharaohs on goal difference. Algeria were then dispatched 2-1 in the quarter finals, Ghana swatted aside 3-0 in the semis and setting up a final against Tunisia, their eventual 2-0 victory the perfect topper on their return to continental competition.



Nations Cup- winning gaffer Clive Barker was eventually sacked and replaced by the caretaker appointment of Jomo Sono, who oversaw the defence of their AFCON title with a run to the '98 final where they lost to the Egyptians. Sono was then replaced by Frenchman Philippe Troussier, and despite the managerial churn there was a growing sense that South Africa had gone from exiles to one of the developing powers of African football, an impression cemented when they went on to seal the country's first World Cup appearance at France 98.



After losing their opener 3-0 against Troussier's homeland, they went on to earn what were seen as creditable draws against Denmark and Saudi Arabia before exiting stage left.



Time for yet another change of manager after it was decided that Carlos Queiroz, now back for a second spell with Iran and unable to get them out of their group at Qatar 2022, was the man to help build on the initial foundations laid down by Troussier, who would go on to do similar for Japan in 2002 and then Qatar the following year.



Having made it to South Korea and Japan and with Jomo Sono back as caretaker coach, their campaign started with another draw, this time against Paraguay. A win over Slovenia had their fellow countrymen dreaming of making the first knockout stage, before a narrow 3-2 defeat to Spain dashed that on goal average and sent the Paraguayans through instead...



And so to focusing on the planning for their own hosting of the tournament after failing to qualify for the preceding edition. No goals at the Nations Cup of 2006 followed and preceded the ongoing rollercoaster of national team coaches – Ephraim Mashaba the longest serving with a two year stint. Rumours began to swirl that the SAFA were looking for a higher profile foreign gaffer and had spoken to Sven-Goran Eriksson about taking on the job of getting the 2010 World Cup's hosts fighting fit.



While they didn't get Sven, they did manage to have more productive discussions with former Brazil boss, and legend, Carlos Alberto Parreira. He agreed a four year deal but then promptly left around a year into the contract citing family reasons, though not before recommending fellow countryman Joel Santana to succeed him.



Failure to even make it to the 2010 Cup of Nations contributed to Santana getting the boot and Parreira eventually being persuaded to return to the dugout in time for the comparative dress rehearsal of the Confederations Cup. Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and the USA helping with a dry run for the main event as the hosts finished second in Group A behind the Spaniards after a draw with Iraq, win over New Zealand and loss to Spain.



Defeat to Brazil led to a third place play off with Spain, who prevailed after extra time. The narrow losses to both helped to inspire confidence of relative success, and so it was that a vuvuzela- packed home crowd would go on to buzz them into a 1-0 lead over Mexico in the opening match of the tournament itself at Soccer City in Johannesburg, before Rafael Márquez's equaliser with around ten minutes to go meant they'd have to settle for a point.



Another encounter with South American opposition awaited in the shape of Uruguay, who provided something of a 3-0 rude awakening before Bafana Bafana waved goodbye to their own soil with a significant, yet fruitless 2-1 win over an imploding France. Their haul of four points and a -2 goal difference crowning them the then- worst host nation in World Cup history as they fell at the first hurdle.



Following their etching into the annals of the Jules Rimet Trophy, Parreira would resign and retire from coaching, though not before drawing up a list of recommendations for growing football in the country, his assistant Pitso Mosimane taking over as manager in his stead.



Disappointingly, though, it would appear the masterplan has thus far failed to bear fruit as they've failed to qualify for any of the succeeding World Cups. Belgian Hugo Broos, the latest of Parreira's successors, has been the closest to breaking the hoodoo but ultimately finished second behind Ghana having topped their group until the last round of matches, a penalty awarded to the Black Stars handing them the prized ticket to Qatar in the cruellest of circumstances.

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