Sunday, 27 January 2013

In Gordon We Trust: two great levellers and a place in the quarter-finals. Hallelujah!

Good Gord: Igesund celebrates a place in the quarter-finals
FOUR months ago, when Gordon Igesund was talking at The New Age Business Breakfast at the Sandton Convention Centre, the conversation started.

On Sunday night, it hit some kind of peak as Bafana Bafana came from behind TWICE to get the point they needed to top Group A and qualify for the quarter-finals against Mali on Saturday night at 8.30pm. After twittering #ingordonwetrust for weeks on end in the face of the army of Bafana Bafana cynics, it finally started to trend.

And last night, as he found a quiet corner at the  Moses Mabhida Stadium during the Mali v DR Congo draw, he told Udo Carelse and I on SPORTSTALK: "That scene at the end there? When we were all gathered in a circle? That was a prayer. We have some good Christian boys in this squad.

"You know me, I've always been positive. And I'm hoping it's rubbing off on the team. I believe we can go a long way in this tournament. There have been a lot of negative comments, but we are positive."

Right from the start, the odds were stacked against the no-nonsense coach from Durban. An opening “friendly” against Brazil, a trip to face Poland just before the European Championship on home soil, the retirement of Steven Pienaar, the tragic death of his assistant Thomas Madigage.

But Igesund battled on. He tried players like Riccardo Nunes, who took all his dead-balls before the Portuguese-South African-Slovenian was bombed out. Like Dino Ndlovu. And whatever happened to the PSL legends Andile Jali and Teko Modise?

Come Saturday night it was all to play for. The final game of AFCON’s Group A, South Africa needing a draw against Morocco. All those weeks of hope and desperation bubbling on the social networks with the media hacks hacking away.

And who could blame them? The pre-tournament friendlies against Norway and Algeria were hardly impressive. The opening clash with Cape Verde saw a third successive game without a goal.

Then the two-goal extravaganza at the Moses Mabhida Stadium gave renewed hope, gave us optimists a glimmer of light.

But when Morocco dominated and scored in the first ten minutes on Sunday night, the lights were going out all over South Africa. We prepared, stoically, for another elimination by the narrowest of margins of home soil, just like the World Cup in 2010.

Our only hope was that little Cape Verde would NOT beat their Portuguese pals in Angola. 
Then, suddenly, at around the 71st minute in both Durban and Port Elizabeth, the world went mad.

I was in the TalkRadio 702 studio with Udo Carelse. Chaos. Our controller Owen Matjie let rip with a few roars right in the middle of a dramatic interview with EP Kings rugby icon Luke Watson. Papers flying, microphones shoved in faces. Were we in? Were we out?

Let me quote the BBC at this point. They describe it as “a night of unrelenting drama” as first May Mahlangu and then the tournament top-scorer Siya Sangweni – a centre-back - equalised for South Africa while the verdant Verdians produced two late goals to win 2-1 against Angola and send Morocco home with three points - and nothing to show for an unbeaten campaign.

In those last twenty minutes, any of the four sides might have gone through – at one point it looked like Morocco would go out on the fact they’d suffered more BOOKINGS than the tiny Cape Verde Islands.

Ultimately, through the tumult, South Africa emerged as Group A winners and they head to their quarter-final at the Moses Mabhida on Saturday with every chance of achieving Igesund’s initial target: a place in the last four of AFCON. Even if they don’t make it, they’ve given a sceptical nation a lift.

As things stand, the path to a repeat of 1996 sees Mali on Saturday, Ivory Coast in the semi-final - also in Durban - on February 6 before a possible final against Ghana on February 10.

Igesund remains apparently unfazed by the huge reaction to his side's unexpected qualification as group leaders. He said: "We had to dig really deep, the lads fought really hard today.

“Itumeleng Khune? Fantastic job, but the whole team did well. It’s a great occasion for the home team and I think we made the country proud."

“We still got work to do, but we’re in the quarter finals now, just two games to go until the final. At the end of the day, I’m proud of my players.”

The final word goes to Gordon. Asked by a journalist: “Do you believe anything is possible?” Igesund responded: “The question is, do you believe?” In Gord we Trust.

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