Sunday, 22 December 2013

No Pirates, No Chiefs, No Sundowners. Gordon Igesund's African Nations Championship plans in disarray

Trouble brewing: Gordon Igesund's Cup of
Coffee approach may not work this time

The traditional Christmas “ho, ho, ho” has been notably absent in the Igesund household since Friday.

Bafana Bafana head coach Gordon Igesund’s preparations for the African Nations Championship were thrown in to disarray at the end of last week when the PSL shook up their January fixtures, a move which is likely to leave hosts South Africa with a severely depleted squad.

Igesund, who’s never been one to mince his words, is supposed to name his 23-man squad for the CHAN tournament tomorrow. He growled: “There is nothing we can do. I have to prepare for this tournament not knowing who I can pick. It’s not an ideal situation.”

The CHAN tournament – limited to players from the domestic leagues around Africa – should have been a showcase for South African football’s resurgence and the PSL, recognised as one of the most lucrative leagues on the continent.

Bafana will play all their Group A games at the Cape Town Stadium, starting with Mozambique on January 11, then Mali on the 15th and Nigeria on the 19th. The final is scheduled for Cape Town again on February 1.

With Orlando Pirates reaching the African Champions League Final against Egypt’s Al Ahly, the tournament was seen as perfectly timed for Igesund to continue the nation’s footballing revival after the rousing 1-0 win over world No 1 Spain.

Instead, it appears Bafana will have little chance against the likes of Nigeria, Libya, Congo and Ghana in a 16-team tournament which is NOT being played on FIFA dates, allowing clubs to withdraw their players at will.

Igesund explains: “Look, we had come to a compromise. There was the orginal agreement where I was told I couldn’t pick players from Pirates, Ajax Cape Town, SuperSport United and AmaZulu because they would be playing league games.

“Now we have these new fixtures and I can’t even comment on it.”

The PSL fixtures now rule out participation from the PSL’s top two sides, Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs, which this statement of explanation offered on Friday: “Due to the heavy backlog created by the progression of Orlando Pirates in the Champion League, it was decided postponed matches would be played in January to avoid fixture congestion.

“In addition, both Chiefs and SuperSport will be playing in the 2014 CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup in February.”

Dominic Chimhavi, the SAFA spokesman, clearly aligns himself with Igesund: “We expect the original agreement to stand and we don’t expect anybody to abrogate it. Only Pirates, Amazulu, Ajax and SuperSport should be affected.

“This is the second biggest tournament on the continent as as hosts, we have to use our best players on home soil.”

With a friendly against Botswana including a three-day camp planned to culminate on Saturday, Igesund said: “I submitted a list of 23 players to the Danny Jordaan last week. He went into a meeting with the PSL and I’m waiting to hear the outcome of that. I need clarity, but from what I can tell, there has been a compromise. It’s been a big challenge because I’ve already changed my team five or six times.”

If the PSL refuse to relent, Igesund could turn to a few of the old guard – particularly Matthew Booth and Moeneeb Josephs, who have helped make third-placed BidestWits the best defence in the PSL this season.

But dreams of a super-team from the top echelon of the PSL appear to be in tatters. Still, it could be worse. Last I heard, Steve Keshi’s Nigeria haven’t even got kit to play in at CHAN.

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