Thursday, 4 September 2014

No need to get the Shakes: FIFA and Nigeria are offering Bafana Bafana a possible short-cut to glory!

Unfazed: Steve Keshi, currently Nigeria's "interim" boss
NOBODY in their right mind can be happy about the way Bafana Bafana have prepared for their AFCON 2015 qualifiers. Let's get that straight from the start.

But this morning, I bring glad tidings of great joy for South Africa's national football team through the usual route: a technicality also known as THE BACK DOOR.

Even better, it's a potentially HUGE blow for our traditional nemesis, Nigeria. Remember, we've played them NINE times, one once in 2004, drawn on in 1993 and LOST THE OTHER SEVEN. But fear not. Here it is, in a sentence, released yesterday by FIFA:

Following the decision by the FIFA Emergency Committee, FIFA has today, 3 September 2014, sent a letter to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) confirming that the NFF will be suspended with immediate effect should there still be persons claiming to have been elected to NFF positions on 26 August 2014 and occupying their offices on Monday, 8 September 2014 at 08.00 (Central European Time).

Yes, that's the line from FIFA which could see Shakes Mashaba heroically qualifying for AFCON 2015 despite all the odds and Ebola. Which would be nice seeing that our SAFA president Danny Jordaan has apparently been so busy sorting out the tournament jun Morocco after brilliantly master-minding the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, 2013 AFCON and 2014 CHAN.

Good old Danny. Good old Shakes. Good old Technical Director (as yet unnamed). All we have to do if Nigeria don't get rid of Chris Giwa and re-instate Aminu Maigari, the former NFF president, is finish in the top two of Group A which will be drastically reduced to three teams.

The great Steve Keshi, declared "interim coach" for Saturday's opening clash with the Congo in Calabar, insists he's unfazed by all this but surely, it's got to be weighing heavily. One source suggests Keshi is getting paid personally by Nigeria's Sports Minister Tammy Danagogo to run the team for two games.

Yup, Sudan, Congo, South Africa. Can we hit the top two? I reckon so, even without Thulani Serero, May Mahlangu, Kermit Erasmus and the suddenly injured goalkeepers Ronwen Williams and  Itumeleng Khune (Ayanda Patosi is apparently still in the air somewhere, having missed his connection from Belgium).

If Cape Town on September 10 against those swooping Super Eagles won't happen, but effectively, those valuable three points will be in the bag. Woohoo!

Incredible isn't it? The current AFCON champions aren't going to take this lying down of course. They were suspended for nine days in July after Maigari's original ousting and the NFF executive then voted Giwa in for a second time. But FIFA are having none of it. Oh, and Nigeria's domestic league is some chaos too, with emergency committees and suspensions everywhere.

This afternoon, Nigeria's House of Representatives backed FIFA, insisting Giwa must step down and insisting his claim to the NFF presidency was "false".

It's all set for Shakes to begin his career with the kind of triumph we felt when Ethiopia were docked three points in the World Cup qualifying campaign for Brazil. Sadly, that didn't quite work out. We finished second after defeat in Addis Ababa and didn't even reach the play-offs, where the Antelopes were shoved out by… Nigeria's Super Eagles.

Such is life. Shakes and his charges are in Sudan as I speak. They flew via Dar Es Salaam, arrived yesterday, were given a really dodgy old bus and then decided not to train as it was too hot. Later Mashaba said the team were "delayed" by transport problems.

Today, final preparations begin for a side without so many of the old familiar faces. Senzo Meyiwa, the Orlando Pirates goalkeeper, has been made captain while FC Twente's Kamahelo Makotja looks the major player against a modest Sudan side without foreign stars. Up front, the PSL's form strikers will be watching on television as Bournemouth's Tokelo Rantie attempts to find his scoring form tomorrow night at 8pm.

Shakes said of Meyiwa's elevation today: "I think Meya has worked hard and dserved the chance. He is a leader and I like his overall attitude."

Meyiwa, 26, said: "I asked the coach if I can share my experience of playing in Africa with Orlando Pirates in the Champions League. We will do that today, Thabo Matlaba, Andile Jali (now playing in Belgium for Oostende) anbd Oupa Manyisa.

"People will talk about this new side, but what do we do as players? We must make sure we make our country's proud. It's vital we concentrate on the opening minutes tomorrow. For us, as players who played in the Champions League, we know what to expect.

"Sudan will feel the heat tomorrow just like us, so that can't be an excuse. We've played under these conditions. We must expect everything, a lot of things that won't be nice including the referees."

On paper, South Africa should walk it. Our domestic league is something the Sudanese can only dream of, the levels of investment and organization in South Africa are the envy of Africa, as we all know.

Only problem is, there are whispers. Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Khune, rarely beaten in the AmaKhosi's opening run of eight straight wins, finds himself crocked with a Grade 3 fracture of a bone in his heel. According to Bafana doctor Thulani Ngwenya, this is a long-standing injury which "could be aggravated" if he flies to Sudan.

But there has been no sign of Khune struggling. His team-mate Bernard Parker played with a dodgy ankle for four months last season, failing to add to his Golden Boot wining tally of 10 goals after February, but that was different. He looked a yard short of pace, and insisted on playing despite the swelling of the joint which required surgery in the winter.

Khune has shown no signs of discomfort. His distribution remains sharp and crisp, the envy of goalkeepers worldwide. Never saw him hobbling at any point. But the ankle blew up and scans revealed the fracture.

Senzo Meyiwa takes the No 1 jersey and the captaincy armband Khune left behind but the question remains: is this one of those phantom injuries (remember Nigeria in the disastrous CHAN tournament earlier this year when Moeneeb Josephs became the fall guy?) or a genuine knock?

Word is the Marks Park surface for training on Monday and Tuesday was a little harder than usual. Khune was not the only one who struggled, withdrawing before the end of training. Andile Jali and Keet both expressed concerns.

Of the other injuries, Shakes says: “We had Buhle (Mkhwanazi) from Wits, who was selected and we were told that he is injured. Our medical staff followed up and confirmed the injury. We were told Ronwen (Williams) has an ankle problem and we requested the club to send him through so that we can check him, not that we did not believe them but we wanted to confirm, and yes, he has a swollen ankle. Themba Zwane was reported to be injured but he came in and he said he was fine and the doctors confirmed that."

So it's been up and down for Mr Mashaba a day after parliament considered passing "hands off Shakes" legislation. But hey, why worry? We don't have the Technical Director Danny Jordaan promised a month ago. The new Nike kit is still not with Bafana. Shakes has spent most of his time before his Bafana debut concentrating on getting the Under 20 AmaJitas to Senegal (great job chaps) only to find his suggested replacement Serame Letsoaka has gone to SuperSport FC with some bloke called Gordon Igesund.

But it matters not. If Nigeria are suspended from AFCON on Monday, as FIFA are threatening, none of this will matter. Second in a group of three? No problem. And even if they the House of Representatives manages to dislodge the NFF president, Nigeria are not in the best of shape. A top two finish in Group A is attainable. Surely?

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