JOHANNESBURG – Is it right to patriotically delight in Bafana Bafana’s progression to the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations, or to be the realist and see their presence in the knockout stage as a case of cracks being papered over by hollow success?
Loyally blind fans no doubt celebrated wildly when Angola lost to Senegal, a result that ensured Bafana were the fourth best third-placed team in the group stage of the 24-team biennial continental showpiece and thus advanced.
It sounds so contrived, right?
Well, it does because it is.
When the Confederation of African Football decided to increase the number of participants at the tournament from 16, it made room for the not-so-good national teams to participate. It meant that about half the continent’s nations would be represented at an event that is supposedly a showcase of Africa’s crème de la crème.
And then, to ensure the increase made sense, they introduced the round of 16, allowing four of the six third-placed teams to go through. Third place in a group of four is a poor return, but then again…
Having failed to qualify for the previous 16-team tournament, we welcomed the increase and duly qualified second in our group behind Nigeria, although the manner of qualification was pretty uninspiring.
While the discerning fan was aware that Bafana were merely going to Egypt to make up the numbers, the die-hards dared to dream, while Safa set a realistic goal of progression to the knockout phase.
Mandate achieved, we are now stuck with a highly inept and super defensive Stuart Baxter as coach.
Yes, the dream of capturing the title can still become a reality – much stranger things have happened than a poor Bafana beating the high-flying Egypt. But should the expected happen and Bafana lose to the hosts on Saturday, bet on a significant part of the country duly accepting the outcome.
And just like that, this will serve to paper over the cracks, again ensuring that we are unlikely to seriously address the fact that our football is in dire need of an overhaul if we are to return to the dizzy heights of the late 1990s.
Of course, it is nice that we are still in the tournament, but the reality is that our senior national team were pathetic in the group stage.
In Baxter we have a coach who is taking us nowhere fast, but that much is clearly not going to be seen by a governing body made up of a majority of men (and women) who have long reached their sell-by dates as custodians of the game.
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