Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki admits that the cancellation of proposed friendly matches in this Fifa international open window week was a missed opportunity for the team.
South Africa was forced to discontinue camp after Zambia and Madagascar withdrew from scheduled matches in the wake of xenophobic attacks in the country over the past few weeks.
“Tactically speaking, it is a big setback for us because, if we had played friendlies, we would have profiled the team better before we play Ghana and Sudan [in the 2021 Afcon qualifiers]. But everything that happened was beyond our control,” Ntseki said.
“It is disappointing and, at the same time, it’s not helping our football. As a team, we were looking forward to playing our first match under a new coach with some of the new players who were brought in for the camp. Unfortunately, they’ll be going back to their clubs not having had the opportunity to play,” he added.
The players were released on Friday morning from the camp which started last Sunday.
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, a former Bafana coach himself, has sympathised with Ntseki.
“It is sad because we gave him the task of qualifying the team for the World Cup, but there are no games. How is he going to measure his team?
“I mean, it is the same issue like when [former Bafana head coach] Stuart Baxter was complaining that he didn’t have enough friendly matches to prepare the team. We are putting ourselves in the same space with Molefi. Of course, it is not the fault of the football association [Safa] that we don’t have a game. They even tried to get Madagascar, but the fact of the matter is that we are where we are now,” said Mosimane.
However, Ntseki is hopeful that Bafana will get opponents in the next Fifa calendar next month.
“I don’t see it [the unrest in the country] dragging on for too long because, as South Africans citizens, we are part of a bigger world.”
With the clock ticking as the start of the 2021 Afcon qualifiers in November nears, Ntseki wishes to secure opponents that match the profiles of Ghana and Sudan.
He said the spying job on the two nations had already begun.
“I am hopeful and positive that, in the next few days, we’ll be standing together as Africans and we’ll be allowed to play. But if it doesn’t happen, we can play any other country.
“We have already started profiling Ghana and Sudan. Fortunately, we played against Ghana [in Dubai in June] during our preparations for Afcon. Sudan is more of a closed book, but our analysts are working hard to get information on our opponents.”
Safa not spared financial losses
The cancellations of matches and the training camp came at a cost to Safa, although the federation said it “managed to mitigate the loses by virtue of dealing with it through the stakeholders”.
“There would obviously be some losses, but nothing to the extent of having staged the matches,” said Safa acting chief executive Russell Paul.
However, he said they were still liable to pay player allowances, but refused to disclose the figures. City Press has been reliably informed that some players from the 23-member squad got maximum R4 400 in daily allowances for the days they spent in camp. That totals slightly about R100 000 on stipends alone.
Football coaches call for unity amid strained relations
On Friday, a band of professional football coaches and legends – both local and foreign – gathered in Rosebank, Johannesburg, to declare their stance on the xenophobic attacks and gender-based violence that has gripped the country.
The move was initiated by Mosimane and Golden Arrows coach Steve Komphela.
They received the backing of the likes of Ntseki, Baroka FC coach Wedson Nyirenda, AmaZulu’s Cavin Johnson, Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya‚ Malawian legend Ernest Mtawali and University of Pretoria coach Zipho Dlangalala.
Safa vice-president Ria Ledwaba and Gauteng MEC for sport‚ arts‚ culture and recreation Mbali Hlophe were also in attendance.
“We have a responsibility to the country as the coaches. That small message might make a difference to the supporters of football in and outside the country,” said Mosimane.
“If we speak they’ll probably understand that we are not supporting a small community that is doing this.”
He added that there should not be fear of travelling around the continent.
Sundowns have for the past seven years been regular campaigners in the CAF Champions League and Mosimane is hoping that his team will continue to command respect and receive love during its travels.
Zimbabwe Under-23 coach Tonderai Ndiraya also weighed in on the burning issue during his visit to the country for his side’s Afcon qualifier against South Africa in Soweto on Friday.
“Our coming here somehow will instil confidence in those who were sceptical about the whole situation here. We’ve come and played. I hope this will send a strong message to other nations that, despite those incidents which happened in secluded places, South Africa is still a safe country to visit.
“What I don’t like personally is to paint the whole country with the same brush. That would be unfortunate,” said Ndiraya after his side suffered a 5-0 defeat.
He said the humiliation was partly a result of the psychological effect South Africa’s sociopolitical climate had on his players.
His counterpart, David Notoane, admitted that it was difficult to keep the players 100% focused in the midst of this turmoil. Notoane said his players were assured of their safety, and that the return leg against Zimbabwe on Tuesday in Bulawayo would go ahead.