Forget about the players who have reached their sell-by-date

2014-05-28 00:00

IS this the future of South African football?

This was the primary question among the journalists who travelled with Bafana Bafana on their Australasian tour to play against Australia and New Zealand.

It is now history that there was chaos before the team took to the field as an unprecedented number of senior players, the tried and tested or as the joke goes about, the tired and rested, pulled out of the squad.

Coach Gordon Igesund grew grey hairs as he scrambled around to put together a decent team for the tour.

Some players only received their call-ups a day before the party was to depart. Siphelele Mthembu of Platinum Stars told journalists that he had to leave home in Glencoe, KwaZulu-Natal, at 4 am to make it to the airport in Pietermaritzburg so that he could join the team in Johannesburg.

Such were the haphazard arrangements that the team only had one training session in Johannesburg and only two in Sydney before tackling the Socceroos who are on their way to the World Cup.

When we arrived in Sydney we were told that Australians were cock-a-hoop saying that the minimum score they would get over South Africa should at least be 4-0, given the number of known players who did not make the trip.

Why, this was Australia’s farewell to their followers, who came in numbers making the official crowd 50 459 at the 82 000-seater ANZ Stadium.

To say the crowd was intimidating and hostile to the young players in Igesund’s team, would be the understatement of the century.

Here was a group of young players, some untested, having travelled 12 hours from their country and having to face such a daunting task within 48 hours of arriving Down Under.

I guess when the Australian players and their technical staff saw the starting line-up of goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa, Thato Mokeke, Thabo Nthethe, Anele Ngcongca, Hlompho Kekana, Ayanda Patosi, captain of the day Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Erick Mathoho, Thuso Phala and Tokelo Rantie, they must have thought to themselves “here comes a walk in the park”.

They saw an opportunity to wipe the floor with the novices in this national team. But when Patosi scored a neat goal in the 13th minute following a breath-taking run by Rantie who laid the ball back for the Belgian-based player to score, one could hear a needle drop except for the corner occupied by a tiny group of South African followers.

Well, immaturity was evident as Bafana Bafana allowed Australia an equaliser just a minute later.

However, the fact that they managed to hang on to that scoreline until the end of the match and even created a few other chances, says a lot about this team.

These players showed that they can stand their ground and have the potential to represent South Africa with aplomb going forward.

While some might ponder what the score would have been had South Africa brought their strongest squad that Igesund had initially selected, this might just be the wake-up call the country has needed to forget about the players who have reached their sell-by-date.

This could just be the dawn of a new era.

Even South African Football Association (Safa) president Danny Jordaan has said that these players have made the country proud and should be retained going forward.

Igesund concurred, sadly though in the same fashion as those famous words by American Civil Rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jnr in his groundbreaking “I have A Dream” speech, when he paraphrased Moses from the Bible and said “I may not get there with you but I have seen the promised land”, Igesund might not be there long enough as his fate is expected to be decided at the Safa National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on Saturday.

His contract officially expires at the end of this month and only the NEC will determine whether he will be on the bench when South Africa open their 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Sudan away in September or there will be a new face on the bench.

S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa’s leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is currently City Press sports editor.

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