19 December 2003
Perhaps the most disappointing time for South African soccer in 2003 was the national team’s disastrous foray into north Africa in November.
In games meant to prepare Bafana Bafana for the 2004 African Cup of Nations tournament in Tunisia in January, coach Shakes Mashaba’s charges showed little character or cohesion, losing to Egypt (2-1) and then to Tunisia (2-0) four days later.
Mashaba argued that the losses gave him an idea of what was wrong with the squad. “I will have to work hard to restore confidence in the players,” he said.
This lack of cohesion by the national team on the field is mainly due to administrative bungling and the ongoing club-versus-country saga.
The South African Football Association’s (Safa) has a perennial inability to co-ordinate Bafana’s games (both official and friendlies) with the international football calendar.
This has led to a fallout between the association and some overseas-based players over their availability. The overseas-based players argue that some of the call-ups, especially for friendlies and regional tournaments, are unnecessary and jeopardise their club careers.
In most cases, those who respond to their call-up arrive two or three days before a game, giving the coach little time to work out a game plan and to mould the overseas and locally-based players into an organised unit.
Another problem is that the squad that is selected almost always assembles for not more than a week before the particular game. This further complicates the coach’s job of integrating the individuals’ playing styles.
The proper organisation of the national team needs urgent attention. Safa needs to put mechanisms in place to allow the national squad to assemble timeously in order to give the coach enough opportunity to experiment with different combinations.
Moreover, it is important that the squad plays practice matches against organised formations such professional invitational teams, lower division teams and even high school teams.
In 2003, Bafana played 11 matches – seven friendlies, two ACN qualifiers, one Cosafa qualifier and a Nelson Mandela Challenge match.
Of the seven friendlies, they won three, lost three and drew one. The squad won the last two ACN qualifying games against Burundi and Ivory Coast, and beat Costa Rica to annex the Mandela Challenge cup. Bafana, however, came unstuck against Zimbabwe in the Cosafa Cup qualifier.
Another disappointing development for Bafana was the loss of Shaun Bartlett to the squad due to the unresolved club-versus-country issue.
Bartlett, who has been capped 64 times and has scored more than 20 times for South Africa, announced his retirement from international football to concentrate on his club career at Charlton Athletic in England.
Tragedy struck the soccer fraternity when striker Lesley Manyathela died in a car accident on his way home to Limpopo province in August.
Manyathela, who played for Orlando Pirates, had also played for Bafana Bafana on five occasions. He made his debut on 20 March 2002 in an international friendly against Saudi Arabia. He then went on to feature against Georgia, Botswana, Swaziland and Senegal.
The good news
Some of the best news for soccer this year was the induction into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame of Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe, the midfield general of many fine Kaizer Chiefs teams of the mid-1970s to mid-1980s.
Ntsoelengoe played in North America for 11 years and was voted in alongside seven other players, including Carlos Alberto, the captain of possibly the greatest team in history, Brazil’s 1970 World Cup winners.
During his years in North America, Ntsoelengoe played for Miami Torros, Denver Dynamos, Minnesota Kicks and Toronto Blizzards in the North American Soccer League (NASL).
Banyana come of age
The women’s senior national squad, Banyana Banyana, performed exceptionally throughout the year.
The main highlight for Banyana was advancing to the finals of the All Africa Games, hosted by Nigeria. Although they narrowly lost (1-0) to the hosts, their performance in the Games was inspired.
The Nigerians had, in previous encounters, completely outclassed Banyana, defeating them by huge margins. This narrow defeat by Africa’s women’s soccer champions indicates a maturity on the part of Banyana who have come a long way since 1993 when they were first assembled as a national squad.
Also, Banyana’s road to the Games finals was littered with dream performances. They brushed aside tough opponents such as Cameroon and Ghana.
The women’s team, judging by this year’s performance, are maturing with time and their approach to the game is becoming more sophisticated.
Banyana have conquered all their opponents in the southern African region. They have easily defeated neighbours Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, and Mozambique with wide margins in recent encounters.
The maturity of their approach to the game was recognised when four of their best players were invited for trials by English premier league team, Arsenal. Veronica Phewa, Mpumi Nyandeni, Portia Modise and Antonio Carelse were subsequently signed after impressive performances, making the quartet the first South African women soccer players to play overseas.
The Premier Soccer League
The 16-team PSL kicked off the 2003/2004 season on a high with the teams that finished in the top eight bracket competing in the SA Airways-sponsored Supa 8. Exciting football was on display as the eight teams vied for the R1.2-million first prize.
There were surprises aplenty as the big name teams were edged out, with the final being played between Jomo Cosmos and Moroka Swallows. Jomo Sono’s charges emerged victorious after defeating Swallows through a golden goal in extra time.
The other lucrative competition, the Coca-Cola Cup, which is contested by all the 16 teams on a knockout basis, also produced skilful displays and some moments of brilliance.
The R2-million tournament was eventually won by glamour team Kaizer Chiefs who walloped the much-improved Wits University 3-1 in the final.
The league campaign, which kicked off in August, is producing mixed results as teams do battle to amass the goals and the points to stay in the hunt for the highest honour in the local game.
Although the race for the championship is still wide open, five teams have emerged as favourites after playing 12 games thus far. Chiefs, Ajax Cape Town, Wits, Santos and Swallows are at the top end of the table after collecting at least 20 points each.
Defending champions Orlando Pirates have had a bad start to the season. Currently lying sixth on the log, they have conceded 10 goals from just 13 games, an indication of a porous defence since the departure to England of captain and centre back Mbulelo Mabizela.
Referees: the weak link
Since the beginning of the season, especially in the two cup competitions, the referees have been in the spotlight, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
Rumblings about inconsistency, incompetence as well as downright favouritism were levelled against the men in the middle and their assistants throughout the Coca-Cola and Supa 8 tournaments, as well as in league matches.
The league, however, has no power to act against the referees as they fall under the control of Safa. But the association has remained silent about these rumblings, and no action has been taken – at least not to the public’s knowledge.
The coaches keep moving
Job security for PSL coaches continues to be elusive. Before the season was three months old, eight teams had already changed coaches. Some were fired, others jumped, while some were demoted.
The list includes veteran Austrian coach Walter Rautmann who was fired by Black Leopards after saving the team from relegation in the 2002/2003 season.
Dutchman Clemens Westerhof of Cape Town-based strugglers Hellenic was also given the boot after a string of poor results.
Pirates coach Roy Barreto was forced to quit after a bad start to the season. He failed to take the defending champions past the first round of the Supa 8. His charges were also knocked out in the initial stages of the Coca-Cola Cup.
He jumped the Buccaneers ship after being pelted with missiles following the loss to Manning Rangers, who knocked them out of the Coca-Cola Cup. In an ironic twist, Barreto was named Rangers coach just three days later.
Steve Komphela left Rangers to rejoin Dynamos as head coach. Komphela, before joining Rangers, had been assistant coach at Dynamos where he worked under Jacob Sakala.
Komphela’s arrival at Dynamos was accompanied by an announcement that Sakala had been demoted to the team’s under-12 academy.
Oscar Fullone of Sundowns was re-assigned as technical director, and the team brought in Khabo Zondo from Golden Arrows as coach.
The Tsetse Flies
The national under-12 team – nicknamed the Tsetse Flies – achieved a great feat in September when they lifted the 2003 Danone Nations Cup tournament in Paris, beating Poland 2-0 in the finals.
Graham Abrahams, spokesman for Sports Minister Ngconde Balfour, said the minister was “delighted at the feat attained by the Tsetse Flies. This a clear indication that the country’s soccer has a bright future in those youngsters,” said Abrahams.