|DYNAMIC DUO: Captain Dean Furman and 50-cap sub Yeye yesterday|
FOUR months of Shakes. Five games for Bafana Bafana. No pre-qualifying friendlies, no time for experimentation. Since he was appointed South Africa’s head coach in late July, we have been beset by Ebola, injuries, scrotum-grabbing allegations, no-shows, heayweight stars and an apparent life-time ban after a tragic murder.
It’s been hell. Mashaba has been through things no coach should have to deal with. But the miraculous summary of Ephraim Mashaba’s handful of games so far? Three wins. Two draws. No defeats. Only one goal conceded.
And here we are. South Africa top Group A and – thanks to Nigeria’s tear-gas-stained 2-0 win against Congo at Three-Pointe-Noire last night – they can’t be caught with one game still to play on Wednesday. They join the AmaJitas, the AmaJimbos and Banyana Banyana in qualifying for their continental championship. All in the space of one year.
Wednesday night is a game South Africa can afford to lose as Nigeria and Congo battle it out for the second qualifying spot for Equatorial Guinea in January. But given what Shakes has achieved so far, the Super Eagles will be far from complacent about grabbing the right to defend their AFCON crown.
Shakes himself, in quotes sent to me by SAFA, says: “This was everything you would have asked for as a coach. We nearly gave it away towards the end of the game, the players all switched off and went to sit at the back and we invited trouble, but we managed to hold up.
“I would like to say congratulations to the players, we are still left with one game, against Nigeria. I know people will think it is going to be a walkover; no we are going to put out our best team. It is more than three points at stake when we go to Nigeria. It’s going to be another tough game like the one we played today which many thought was going to be easy. Thanks to all the supporters, their presence helped us conquer.
“Obviously we would have loved to round off qualifiers without conceding any goals, but that doesn’t matter now we have qualified for AFCON 2015 and it’s the most important thing. It has been a long time since we qualified for this prestigious tournament.
“It was good to revive the good old memories of qualifying. We are not going to Equatorial Guinea to make up the numbers. We have to go there and compete, and bring back our image as one of the good teams on the continent. Thanks also to the South African Football Association (SAFA) for the assistance as well as the sponsors.”
Look, I can’t explain why Bongani Ndulula started yesterday when Kermit Erasmus wasn’t even on the bench. Age apart, I don’t understand why Rivaldo Coetzee continues to start ahead of Tefu Mashamaite. It’s a mystery to me why Mandla Masango was dropped after four reasonable performances and replaced with Oupa Manyisa, who was played out of position.
These are the decisions of Shakes. The man who knows best. Two of those choices proved magnificent. Modest Doncaster Rovers League One journeyman Dean Furman grabbed the captain’s armband with gusto. He was magnificent. Belgian-based goalkeeper Darren Keet emerged from months on the bench to grab his chance with similar aplomb.
|Glove story: Darren Keet's gloves yesterday|
The pair of them worked wonders after the whistle too, with Keet returning us to the Senzo Meyiwa tragedy, saying simply: “I just wish he was here with us today, when we complete the job. We miss him.”
Furman, whose dentist dad Ronnie too him to London from Cape Town as a small boy, is born to lead. He said: “We are delighted with the victory, we knew what we had to do and we are going to the finals after such a long time failing to qualify. We started off well and the performance of the players was just excellent.
“But after the two goals we took our foot off the pedal a bit which made the last ten minutes nervous, something we need to work on.
“It was an incredible and much-needed win. Personally, it was a great honour, not in my career but my life to captain the national team but I know based on today’s performance we saw leaders all over the field.
“This win will help us forget what happened at this very stadium when our hearts were broken after we defeated Botswana for Brazil 2014 but we still didn’t qualify because we were playing catch up back then. Today the difference is that it was in our own hands, and it was vital that we get it done. The next match is against Nigeria and we want to maintain our undefeated record by getting a win.”
A year which has seen #ingordwetrust fade and #shakesknows best come to the fore is not over yet. There’s still Nigeria on Wednesday. But let’s finish with Furman on Senzo: “We dedicate the win to Senzo who was in our minds the whole week and today.”