|Host of a chance: Gordon Igesund's Bafana Bafana|
TONIGHT South Africa play Angola in a match which will go a long way to deciding their fate at the African Cup of Nations.
They have two injuries - Kagiso Dikgachoi and Lerato Chabangu - and seriously wounded pride after that yawn-a-minute display against Cape Verde in the AFCON-opening 0-0 draw last Saturday.
The fact that Angola and Morocco also failed to score a goal between them at the National Stadium two hours later means everyone starts from scratch tonight. No goals, one point each, two games to play.
Bafana Bafana kick-off at 5pm. Morocco play Cape Verde at 8pm. After the Proteas snatch defeat from the draw of victory against New Zealand last night near the Big Hole, the nation desperately needs a boost.
If Bafana draw, which is fairly likely given recent displays, I have an awful feeling Angola will beat the volcanic Verdians in their final match on Sunday to qualify with Morocco, clearly the best team in the weakest group.
Tonight we hope for a miracle. That a side unable to score against a young Norway, a pedestrian Algeria and a land of 4,000 square kilometres of lava will be able to produce their first goal in 270 minutes.
Gordon has tried every combination from his front four of Tokelo Rantie, Katlego Mphela, Leohonololo Majoro and Bernard Parker. With Benni McCarthy and Siyabonga Nomvethe both injured, Gordon can hardly be accused of picking the wrong strikers.
I produce SportsTalk on www.702.co.za every night now with Udo Carelse. On Monday night we spoke to Gavin Hunt, the tough-talking Sir Alex Ferguson of South African football. He coached SuperSport United to three successive PSL titles around the World Cup and was short-listed for his mate Gordon's job four months ago.
Here's his take: "The Cape Verde game was like watching paint dry. I daren't phone Gordon to find out what's going on. I feel sorry for him. Half the players look like they couldn't be bothered.
"Siphiwe Tshabalala looks like he need a long holiday. On a Mauritian island. With a one-way ticket. He needs a break for football. He's not been at it for a while. And Thusa Phala's okay but he's like a fireman isn't he? Always putting it out."
At first sight, these are simply Gavinisms. But Hunt is not one for the glib. He's right. Bafana have looked a little bit off for a while now. I talked about it with Redi Tlhabi this morning. I explained how much I hope they get it right tonight.
But then I gave her the points below, as a guide to why South Africa's best players just don't seem fired up right now. Here they are. The possible reasons for failure - not excuses, not an off-putting attack on the team. Just the bare facts as I understand them:
1 On December 22, Bafana beat Malawi 3-1 in a friendly which led to the resignation of the Malawian coach. For that the players are supposed to earn R40,000 EACH (figures of NOTHING for a friendly defeat, R20,000 for a draw and R40,000 were revealed to Udo on SportsTalk last night by SAFA communications manager Dominic Chimhavi last night).
2 They were due to be paid that sum (plus a further sum for the preparatory camp before the game) two weeks ago. Last night Chimhavi told us they would be paid ON THURSDAY. AFTER TONIGHT’S GAME. He said: "Don't worry, we pay our employees." But two weeks later and AFTER the big game Dominic?
3 Tonight Bafana play the biggest game of some of their lives. Defeat against Angola will mean another crushing elimination on home soil, just like the World Cup... only worse.
4 According to my source, the players are deeply unhappy about this situation. SAFA announced the team had agreed to play without bonuses “until the latter stages” in fact, they were told there were no bonuses. That a discussion over remuneration will take place “maybe next week”. Dominic insists NO basic sums have been decided yet, even thought the tournament has begun.
5 A few weeks ago the City Press confirmed rumoured fears about SAFA’s finances. City Press reported the national football association have lost R56m in the first four months of the current financial year. They lost over R100m the year before. SAFA’s chief operations officer shrugged it off as “a cash flow problem” and has not returned my requests for an interview. I believe SAFA finances are in an awful state, just two years after hosting a World Cup.
6 I am also told two players were robbed at the Elangeni hotel during the build-up to the Malawi game. No report was filed, the robbery was hushed up because “the hotel is good to SAFA”. The two players involved lost cash, all credit cards, mobile phones and expensive watches amongst other things.
7 SAFA deny this. Dominic, who seems a nice bloke, emphatically said last night on SportsTalk that he was not aware of any robbery. That he had been in the same hotel throughout the Malawi camp before Christmas. But there was one. Ask Thuso Phala. Dominic, like the rest of us, was clearly not informed. Three weeks before AFCON Bafana were ROBBED at a luxury seafront hotel. And the team is staying at the Elangeni as we speak. Is it any wonder the lads aren't looking their best on the park?
It’s tough to motivate a side that is not, in their view, being sufficiently remunerated. Steven Pienaar, the Everton star and our only world class player, ended up out of pocket when he came over to play for Bafana. He retired shortly before this tournament. Others feel the same.
Gordon Igesund is trying to put out a competitive side tonight. He is doing so with one hand tied behind his back. Whether we like it or not, footballers are doing a job. They are not amateurs playing for the love of the game. YES, they care about the shirt, YES, they want to win. But proper payment and reward, as we all know, doesn't half help.