South African fans recently experienced yet another night of disappointment as Bafana Bafana suffered their second successive defeat against Cape Verde in 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday evening.
Before the international break there was newly found optimism surrounding the national team, but after two dismal performances, the hysteria and positive energy has diminished and an air of negativity and despair has once again found itself hovering over South African football.
Following Bafana’s recent defeats, Journalist Yusuf Variava spoke to Goal South Africa's editor Ignat Manjoo, who shared his thoughts on the national team’s recent woes.
YV: With two defeats on the trot and with Fifa’s decision to replay the match against Senegal now confirmed, Bafana’s World Cup prospects look bleak to say the least. What do you think of the current state of Bafana’s qualifying campaign?
Ignat Manjoo (IM): If we thought the way we lost home and away to Cape Verde was embarrassing, being forced to replay our home game against Senegal is even more humiliating. They're rubbing salt into our open wounds and I will say more about this referee corruption case when Safa releases a proper statement with their views on the matter. One could imagine all kinds of conspiracies but it's best to wait for the facts of the case. We must concentrate on the football where we already deserve a beating. Before the game many colleagues in the media were convinced we were going to beat Cape Verde twice and collect six points. Of course, if that happened we'd already be checking hotel prices in Moscow. Is it that easy to qualify for the World Cup? No. On paper we got one of the easier groups because there were no traditional heavyweights in there. I felt that all four teams in our group were at the same level. Senegal's got the best individuals but they lack confidence after missing out on recent World Cups. If they can get a lift then they can be one of Africa's dangerous teams in Russia.
YV: Interesting… But how did it all go so horribly wrong for Bafana against the Blue Sharks?
IM: Many saw Cape Verde as the weakest team but I didn't think so. They impressed me with their defensive organization in tournament football. They've qualified for Afcon’s, which is something even we don't always achieve. Then there's Burkina Faso who many were even counting the points for our next home game. This is a team that reached a recent Afcon final (in 2013) and their superb team work has proven they've been able to also achieve what we haven't in a long time. Okay, they're not big names like Nigeria, Cameroon or Egypt on paper, but since these teams have been doing better than us, it means we have to wake up. As I said they're are around our level, so we needed to be at our best to beat them. Instead, after beating Nigeria we thought we could easily beat Cape Verde and the players didn't raise their game. I couldn't believe the performance at home. There was no penetration until the dying minutes when we already felt we lost. For a World Cup qualifier that is unforgivable!
YV: Very strong words indeed. But do you think South Africa deserved anything out of the two games, and do you believe that the criticism levelled against Stuart Baxter has been warranted?
IM: Simply put, Cape Verde played better than Bafana Bafana in both games. We have to eat humble pie and admit that we deserved zero points from those two games. Here in South Africa we talk big as if we're going to be one of the best teams in Africa and we gave previous good coach's unrealistic mandates. Cape Verde gave us a reality check. I don't believe Stuart Baxter is the best coach for us but I also believed Roy Hodgson was a poor coach and England easily qualified for Brazil 2014. That is because even with average coaches, a good team and individuals can pull through. I can give you a long analysis of where Baxter went wrong but what can we do about it so early in his new reign? You have to also look at the players. Now we're seeing more youngsters moving to Europe and that's very encouraging. However, it doesn't make us a great team in Africa overnight. What have the likes of Keagan Dolly, Thulani Serero, Tokelo Rantie and Bongani Zungu achieved in Europe? You can't compare that to the top-level experience Benni McCarthy, Lucas Radebe, Quinton Fortune and Steven Pienaar enjoyed. Look at the world beaters at other African nations, even smaller nations like Guinea. We shouldn't be celebrating that Zungu and Dolly are in Europe. It is our duty to have players going there, but then they have to step up and make their mark, otherwise there's no true progress. Progress is not about living the dream, living in Europe with a good life. Real progress is to inspire your team to greatness whether you're in Ligue 1 or Orlando Pirates.
YV: Although, you have been highly critical of the national team, do you believe that we have the potential to realise Safa’s goal of Vision 2022?
IM: There's potential in these youngsters, but we're nowhere near reaping that potential. You can easily see that Bafana Bafana's not ready for a World Cup. We really need to kick on because Vision 2022 is round the corner and I wonder if the goalposts will be moved. 2026 is a much more realistic target because the amount of African teams going through is going to double. Then again, if they took two teams from our 'easier' qualifying group, we'd still struggle to qualify. The way things are going we could finish bottom of this group and that alone underlines the vast difference in performance levels between Baxter's team and Shakes Mashaba's team.