FROM the so-called bunch of losers to one of the teams that can be tagged favourites to clinch the Orange Africa Cup of Nations, the revival of the South African men’s senior national team over the past 12 months has been phenomenal.
This time last year, the side was contending with ridicule from government officials and was a source of jokes among its long-suffering followers after a disappointing showing at yet another tournament culminated in their elimination from the African Nations Championships, which they hosted.
“What I saw there was not a problem of coaching, it was a bunch of losers who don’t have any respect for this country and don’t have any respect for anybody,” Sports Minister, Fikile Mbalula, infamously said after the team’s elimination.
Fast-forward to January 2015, the team is in buoyant mood ahead of the AFCON that kicks off in Equatorial Guinea this weekend, raising hopes among fans Shakes Mashaba’s side can emulate the great side that lifted the tournament on home soil in 1996, just four years after re-admission to international football.
A change of fortunes has swung the mood among the local football public from that of despair to one filled hope.
“If the qualifiers are anything to go by, Mzansi will have a good tournament. They are solid,” Johannesburg-based football analyst, Mduduzi “Ballack” Vundla, said.
Bafana defied the odds, including the death of captain and goalkeeper, Senzo Meyiwa, who was gunned down in Johannesburg, to qualify atop of a group that included defending champions, Nigeria, Congo and Sudan.
In Equatorial Guinea, which co-hosted the 2012 edition Bafana failed to qualify for following an embarrassing misinterpretation of rules, they are placed in the so-called Group of death alongside Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.
Another analyst, Otto Masuku, is confident Bafana will rise to the occasion.
“I think South Africa stands a better chance. They have selected mostly local players that have shown commitment,” he said.
“It seems a mountain to climb but it is not impossible,” Masuku continued.
Mcinseli Vundla from neighbouring Swaziland is confident South Africa will maintain their unbeaten run under Mashaba.
The fact that Bafana have followed up their qualification campaign with victories over formidable sides like Ivory Coast, Zambia and lately Mali, buoyed Vundla’s forecast.
“Mzansi under Shakes is going far but let them beat Algeria, the continent’s highest-ranked side, and then we can talk,” he however cautioned.
Amid such hopes from fans, it remains to be seen if the “Mashaba Magic” current crop can emulate the Class of 1996 that was inspired by the “Madiba Magic” as the late president Nelson Mandela’s influence in the side was referred to.
Source : CAJ News Agency