Friday, 22 August 2014

Brave new world for Bafana: new assistant coach Owen da Gama on the rocky road ahead

In the hot seats: Da Gama and Mashaba
AMIDST the hullabaloo over Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba naming his first Bafana Bafana squad, one name escaped scrutiny. Perhaps Owen da Gama avoided the microscope because he was a surprise choice as assistant coach rather than one of the new, young players.

Da Gama’s sudden rise to the penultimate step on South Africa’s slippery footballing ladder comes after his involvement with Mashaba in the Nedbank Ke Yona talent search over the past few months. A few twitterers questioned 53-year-old Da Gama’s presence on the South African bench, but let’s make this clear: he has to get the benefit of the doubt, just like many of Mashaba’s youngsters as they head in to a four-day camp before tough AFCON 2015 qualifiers against Sudan in Khartoum on September 5 and Nigeria in Cape Town on September 10.

I spoke to Owen a few minutes ago. More of that later. But let’s have a look at the full Da Gama story first. It is a fascinating saga, not untypical of our game. He was a useful player, spending some time in Belgium and Ireland, and has had a long and varied career in coaching. But it was not always a fairy tale, particularly when he was accused – but cleared - of soliciting money from players to play in the first team at Platinum Stars a few years ago.

A youngster with Arcadia Shepherds (my old foe as a kid in Tshwane in the 1970s); Owen Joao Cornelius Da Gama was a striker; his spell as a professional at Pretoria Callies was pretty useful – he scored 17 goals in 35 games under former Glasgow Rangers legend the late Kai Johansson in the old NPSL, also turning out for Colchester United and Dynamos.

On the back of his exploits for Callies, Da Gama signed a three-year deal with Belgian club Beerschot in 1985 and was loaned to Derry City in Ireland where he won the League of Ireland title and scored a hat-trick in a cup final en route to becoming the club’s top scorer and PFAI Player of the Year in 1986. Playing for a Catholic team in Northern Ireland who competed in the neighbouring Republic of Ireland, those were heady days in front of fanatical support during The Troubles.

In 1989, Apartheid prevented a move to Spanish First Division Club Figueres – no South Africans were allowed work permits in those days. Errol Hughes brought him back to South Africa’s Leeds United as player-coach with some success, before a stint at Moroka Swallows where scored twice in the 1989 Bob Save Super Bowl final against Mamelodi Sundowns. Da Gama ended his playing days at Dynamos when he picked up a career-ending knee injury in 1990.

And that’s when the coaching began. In 1992, Da Gama took Dynamos from relegation fodder to third in 1992 and returned under new owner Peter Rabali to lead Dynamos in to the new-fangled Premier Soccer League in 1996.

He then took Silver Stars – now Platinum Stars – from the Vodacom League to the National First Division in 1998 but left to run his own computer business in Pretoria.

There, he part-owned and coached PSM Parkhurst in the Vodacom League, finishing second before returning to Silver Stars where a remarkable run of 9 wins in 11 matches saved the club from PSL relegation in 2000.

Three years later, after relegation from the top flight, his Stars knocked mighty Orlando Pirates out of the 2003 ABSA Cup and won their place back in the PSL. In 2005 Stars ended on a high in 5th and he was voted PSL Coach of the Season at the end of the 2006 season. Simba Marumo (now head of our player’s union) scored a hat-trick to win them the Telkom Knockout against Ajax Cape Town in Atteridgeville.

By 2007, Silver Stars finished 2nd in the league and were playing in the 2008 CAF Champions League. That’s when Da Gama decamped to Orlando Pirates, replacing Bibey Mutombo after six games with the Buccaneers bottom of the PSL. Da Gama’s revival saw them rise to 8th but he left Orlando in June 2008 for a topsy-turvy year at Free State Stars as Director of Coaching and caretaker coach when David Duncan was ousted.

Bloemfontein Celtic and another relegation-saving campaign followed. He lifted Siwelele off the bottom of the table to 14th in 2009 and guided them to 6th the following year.

But now we come to the nub of the problem. In August, 2010, Da Gama returned to his old stamping ground. Silver Stars had become Platinum Stars, with the platinum-plated might of the Royal BaFokeng Kingdom behind the club in the North West.

Stars finished 10th in 2011 but the following season came allegations that Da Gama was asking players – and/or agents – for R5000 to play in the first team.

Da Gama strongly refuted those claims and himself called for an investigation. He was suspended in March 2012 and cleared of ANY WRONGDOING in May after what he calls “weeks of pure hell” – but soon resigned as he felt he “no longer had a working relationship with some officials at Platinum Stars” and was paid out on his contract.

Since then, in November 2012, he helped his old club Dynamos survive in the National First Division after a 6-match winless run, something of a tradition for the man born in Volksrust in August 1961. The also-traditional swift departure followed four months later.

Da Gama played a part in the early careers of many of South Africa’s top stars. He lists among his successes Surprise Moriri at Mamelodi Sundowns, SuperSport United’s Thuso Phala and Mulomowndau “Tower” Mathoho, now at Kaizer Chiefs and named in today’s Bafana squad.

Da Gama’s elevation to national assistant coach was confirmed in Cape Town Civic Centre yesterday by new head coach Mashaba – they had been working together on the Nedbank Ke Yona talent-search, naming their team yesterday to take on last year’s winners Orlando Pirates. Thabo Senong, the 34-year-old “encycopedia of youth” will fill the bench as second assistant and former Pirates goalkeeper Lucky Shiburi was named goalkeeper coach.

The South African Football Association remains without a Technical Director – former women’s TD Fran Hilton-Smith will apparently fill that role on a contingency basis – and Mashaba told us after naming his squad: “There is huge talent in this country.  I chose a big squad because we are playing two crucial matches; we don’t want to leave anything to chance.

“We are aligning ourselves with SAFA’s Vision 2022. The youngsters we have selected are part of that long-term vision.

“Along the way we will come across several competitions like the 2015 Morocco AFCON, the 2016 Rio Olympics, 2017 Libya AFCON, the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

“But we also looked at current form, and some players are unfortunate not to be part of the squad, they are talented but don’t have the momentum yet as the league just started. All we ask for now is support from the public for this project we are working on.”

Shakes will get that support. In spades. His work with the Under 20s is well known and reasonably successful. He’s done the big job before, with results second only to Sir Clive Barker. But there is a critique emerging. Darren Keet, impressive in Belgium, is left out of the goalkeeping selection for AmaJitas’ No 1 Dumisani Msibi of SuperSport United. A fully-fit but axed Siyanda Xulu, on the bench for Russia’s FC Rostov in Europe last night, plays second fiddle to Bafana U20 defender Ayabulela Magqwaka who admits: “I just burst in to tears when I heard I’d been picked.”

Ajax Amsterdam’s Thulani Serero, so important as the fulcrum towards the end of Gordon Igesund’s Bafana tenure, is also out, and there is no place for May Mahlangu, who scored four times in early season action for Goteborg, attracting attention from West Brom among a host of European clubs.

Curiously, Ayanda Patosi – declared unfit by Lokeren in their Europa League qualifier against Hull City last night – is IN. So is Dean Furman, currently playing in England’s third flight, and Tokelo Rantie, who is only being used in brief spells by Bournemouth. The striking department, unavoidably, looks awfully weak.

So I called Owen Da Gama for his take: “This appointment is a surprise, but it’s also exciting to be involved in such a massive project. I helped choose the players. I’m very, very confident. The Shakes masterplan is the same as SAFA’s. It’s unbelievable when you look at the depth of that statement.

“Foundations are being laid in place. I’ve always tried to lay foundations wherever I’ve gone. We’re looking to the future but there’s no doubt about it, we want to win from the start, do as well as possible. We understand the challenges.

“It’s all a process. As much as we don’t want to send the message of immediate success, the main focus is Shakes wants to create strong patriotic frameworks. Nobody is guaranteed a place. Should these players come from overseas, they must have respect. Even if you play for Manchester United.

“The biggest problem we’ve had is certain matches are shunted, overseas players are suddenly not available. Serero is pedigree, but we are sending a strong signal out that everybody is going to be considered, must fight for a position. We had Siyanda Xulu and Serero on the list.”

Da Gama and I are the same age, we both played with a certain Roy Wegerle on opposite sides in the 1970. He now has my best wishes after a good phone call. The nation is behind Mashaba’s new Bafana.  But he knows Sudan will be a tough trip without Serero, Xulu and Mahlangu. And Nigeria in Cape Town even tougher.

Bafana squad:
Itumeleng Khune, Senzo Meyiwa, Dumisani Msibi.
Buhle Mkhwanazi, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Thabo Matlaba, Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Ayabulela Magqwaka, Mulomowandau Mathoho, Anele Ngcongca, Rivaldo Coetzee, Sibusiso Khumalo.

Themba Zwane, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Oupa Manyisa, Andile Jali, Dean Furman, Ayanda Patosi, Keagan Dolly, Mandla Masango, Kamohelo Mokotjo.
Tokelo Rantie, Bongani Ndulula, David Zulu, Bongi Ntuli.
Bafana reserves:
Darren Keet, Ronwen Williams, Ntsikelelo Nyauza, Bongani Zungu, George Lebese, Percy Tau, Nhlakanipho Ntuli, Siyanda Ngubo.

SOCCERBALLZ! my innovative football show on with Mark Fish airs every Thursday from 9am-11am. See Ballz' Youtube channel for our growing library of fascinating football interviews with the big names.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday in

Thursday, 21 August 2014

It's Bafana Bafana time: the nation awaits Shakes Mashaba's high-noon announcement

Striking surprise: leading scorer Ndumiso Mabena
Shakes Mashaba will name his first Bafana Bafana line-up tomorrow at Cape Town Civic Centre at high  noon. And we have ABSOLUTELY no idea what his 23-man squad will look like.

The new South African national coach opens his AFCON 2015 campaign with Sudan in Khartoum on September 5 and Nigeria in Cape Town on September 10. But for a host of reasons, his preparations for these two vital international clashes carry the flavor of a hastily packaged pick and mix.

This is Bra Shakes THIRD spell in charge of Bafana and he has spent much of his time since his unveiling last month with the Under 20 AmaJitas.

He didn't appear at his own naming ceremony because he was on a four-game tour of West Africa with the young ones who have dominated the last decade of his coaching career. He won two and drew two on that trip… and then produced a creditable 1-1 draw in Cameroon last Saturday as he missed another chapter of domestic football at home.

At 63, Mashaba has the experience to overcome such problems. But does he have the back-up? Two weeks ago Danny Jordaan, the SAFA net president, told me a Technical Director would be named "in a week" to help Mashaba through what promises to be a turbulent reign.

We were also promised the names of Bafana's back-up crew. As I suggest last week, Shakes will probably name Gordon Igesund’s No 2 Serame Letsoake and his AmaJitas deputy Thabo Senong as his assistants tomorrow.

But here we are, naming the first squad… and there is no hint of a Technical Director and still no confirmation of who will assist Mashaba in the task of reaching Morocco next season.

And apparently he's going to carry on looking after the Under 20s for their return leg against Cameroon bang in the middle of his preparations for Sudan and Nigeria.

We have to believe that Shakes can cope with all this. We retain blind faith in a man who has been in charge of kids - and Lesotho - since he was suspended and sacked for ignoring South Africa's foreign-based stars when he was last in charge in 2004.

All that is acceptable. Clearly Mashaba was the sensible option with Carlos Queiroz demanding a sabbatical and $17m a year and Patrick Kluivert only ever a distant possibility in a short-list that was never really more than a wish-list for SAFA.

Now, ranked 69 in the world, South Africa go in to SAFA action against reinstated Congo, unbeatable Nigeria and unknown Sudan STILL without a proper foreign scouting network saddle with a coach who has watched precious little live PSL action a month in to the new season.

Incredibly, when I started discussing Mashaba's options of this squad on twitter yesterday, I was lambasted for telling the man who to pick. I'm not. It's advice. An opinion. I'm just hoping he's paying attention to the adults rather than the kids this week.

Clearly, Itumeleng Khune has been in imperious form and MUST retain the No 1 jersey (and captain's armband) despite the need for a clean-out. Kaizer Chiefs have played five, won five so far this season. And another of the golden oldies from Gordon Igesund's reign has also impressed - Reneilwe Letsholonyane looks like a new man this season.

With Bernard Parker and Simphiwe Tshabalala injured, Mashaba can safely omit a couple of the other old faithfuls… Thabo Nthethe, Kagiso Dikgacoi and Teko Modise are surely not the future either.

Mandla Masango at Chiefs and the unloved former Orlando Pirates striker Ndumiso Mabena at Platinum Stars have both shown considerable early season form - presumably Mashaba has caught up with that on video.

He'll need to look at Pirate Oupa Manyisa and the two Georges, Lebese and Maluleka too while Sbu Vilakazi's form at Wits needs examination, as does Buhle Makhwanazi since his move from AmaTuks.

And of course, in Holland, Kamohelo Mokotja is getting rave reviews at FC Twente while Thulani Serero at Ajax came on for the last 13 minutes over the weekend. Mashaba had Mokotja in his AmaJitas, we assume he's aware.

In England, Dean Furman is doing okay but Doncaster Rovers are now in the third tier League football, Kagiso Dikgacoi at relegated Premier League club Cardiff City is "carrying a knock" and former Pirates striker Tokelo Rantie remains a bit-part player at Bournemouth.

But will any of these players feature? Gordon Igesund used one of our football internet sites to keep himself up to date with Bafana's foreign stars. Mashaba has no foreign scouting network, no way of knowing how Siyanda Xulu is doing after his foot injury at Rostov in Russia or how Ayanda Patosi is playing at Lokeren in Belgium.

I hear Kagiso Nthle, the 20-year-old Peterborough full-back, picked up a groin injury last week. I keep up to date with Andile Jali's career at KV Oostende largely through twitter.

Is Mashaba doing the same? Does he phone these guys, talk to their coaches, or deal with agents? When he's hardly seen a live PSL game all season? What happened to the SAFA plan which would have seen Bafana's record cap-holder Aaron Mokoena installed as our foreign scout, with contacts around Europe?

But again. the fears are outweighing the hopes. Sudan are no great Shakes, apparently. Nigeria's Steve Keshi is doing his usual will-he-won't-he dance with the Super Eagles. And Congo didn't really deserve their reinstatement if truth be told.

If Shakes comes out tomorrow and names 23 unknown kids or decides to field the entire teenage contingent at Ajax Cape Town, who can blame him? After all, it's all about Vision 2022 at SAFA. Perhaps by then we'll have a Technical Director!

 SOCCERBALLZ! my innovative football show on with Mark Fish airs every Thursday from 9am-11am. See Ballz' channel for our growing library of fascinating football interviews with the big names. 

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday in

Monday, 18 August 2014

Who's your Dady? Rwanda pay the price for identity crisis and Bafana must change travel plans

Identity crisis: Rwanda's Birori Dady; also known as DRC's
Etikiama Agiti Tady with his club side AS Vita Club
It has to rank as one of the silliest attempts at subterfuge in footballing history. Rwanda are OUT of Afcon 2015 and South Africa’s travel plans will have to be radically revamped to include Brazzaville.

Quite whether the new Bafana Bafana head coach Shakes Mashaba will enjoy this incredible tale is uncertain. Disqualified Rwanda are ranked 101 by FIFA while their late replacements in Group A, Congo, are ranked 78.

With Sudan (ranked 115 by FIFA) away first up on September 6 followed by Nigeria (33) in Cape Town on September 10, South Africa (ranked 69) will now play Congo away a month later as they reach the halfway point in a six-match qualifying schedule which ends, abruptly, on November 19.

Rwanda thought they had qualified for Group A with South Africa, Nigeria and Sudan after they ousted the Congo on penalties (both sides won 2-0 at home in a two-legged tie) but then came the storm over the number of passports held by a chap called Birori Dady.

With Egyptian giants Zamalek also raising concerns over Dady’s true identity after playing in the African Champions League against his club side AS Vita in the DRC, the full story began to unravel.

Sunday’s full CAF disciplinary statement read: “The protest by Congo contested the eligibility of the player Birori Dady aligned with Rwanda, and plays for the AS Vita Club of Kinshasa with Congolese (DRC) passport as Etekiama Agiti Tady, and a different age.

“Following investigations by CAF and on the basis of documents provided by the federations of Rwanda, Congo and DR Congo, and hearing the player's testimony on 11 August 2014 at CAF headquarters in Cairo, CAF established that the two identities only referred to a single person.

“While the Rwandan Football Federation (FERWAFA) maintained that to their knowledge the player Dady Birori had one identity, investigations revealed that he was summoned as Etekiama Agiti Tady by FERWAFA to join the national team of Rwanda.”

In effect, it’s a bit like South Africa playing Zimbabwe and calling up Knowledge Musona under an assumed name. Absolute madness when Birori (or Tady) plays his football as a home-grown player in the DRC with AS Vita.

Not very appealing: FERWAFA will fight disqualification
Predictably, Rwanda's FERWAFA today said they will appeal the CAF ruling, with their case set to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Success appears unlikely, though Dady only played in the first leg of their qualifier against Congo.

The shockwaves in Rwanda will be huge while they’ll be dancing in the streets of Brazzaville… but for South Africa there are more pressing problems before the trip to Sudan at the end of the month.

Shakes Mashaba arrived back in South Africa today after a useful 1-1 draw with the Under 20 AmaJitas in Cameroon on Saturday. But he missed last week’s absorbing live PSL action and he remains without an assistant coach or technical director just a fortnight before AFCON qualifying kicks-off with the grown-ups.

The latest word on those positions is this: the Technical Director position will be filled on the advice of FIFA’s technical guru Gerard Houllier, sources suggest that man will be “Dutch or German, somebody like Foppe de Haan, who was at Ajax Cape Town”.

According to my sources only Steve Komphela or Neil Tovey locally had sufficient qualifications for the role, which was supposed to be filled last week. Neither will now be considered. Shakes will report to Fran Hilton-Smith in the meantime – the former Banyana Banyana official now describes herself as SAFA’s “acting technical director”.

Shakes is likely to turn to Gordon Igesund’s No 2 Serame Letsoake as his assistant, though he will also involve his AmaJitas deputy Thabo Senong either as the new Under 20 coach or as a second assistant.

None of this fills me with glee. But Shakes knows best. His first priority will be to get his AmaJitas through the second leg against Cameroon. Then he will turn his attention to a new Bafana squad, who will attend a four-day camp before the Sudan trip.

Mashaba is leaving it late. But after a bright start to the new domestic season, perhaps that won’t matter. But we do know it can’t get any worse than what Rwanda are currently going through.

 SOCCERBALLZ! my innovative football show on with Mark Fish airs every Thursday from 9am-11am. See Ballz' channel for our growing library of fascinating football interviews with the big names. Ballz will also provide daily World Cup updates from next week.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday in

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Two games in, and the PSL is already hard to Swallow. Especially for Brazilians.

Top man: Swallows boss Zeca Marques
FOOTBALL confounds. Absolute football confounds absolutely. And I am confounded.

What on earth are Zeca Marques' Moroka Swallows doing at the top of the PSL? How did Stuart Baxter and his depleted Kaizer Chiefs win their first three games of the season? When exactly did Moneyloadi Sundowns go from loan rangers to groan dangers?

It's been a helluva start to the PSL season. Masandawana can't win a game for love or money. The champions kicked off with an MTN 8 quarter-final defeat against Platinum Stars, who sold half their squad over the winter. Then they were held by modest Maritzburg United's late penalty before last night's crushing 1-0 defeat at Ajax Cape Town.

Yes, Roger de Sa's kids, nine of them fresh out of the academy and none over 25, dismantled Pitso Mosimane's millionaires, with their squad of 64 players being handed out around the country like confetti. Roger laughed: "I thought they coped quite well with the best the PSL has to offer."

Pitso took it on the chin. He generally does: "That is football. They'll look at the coach now. But all those crosses and nobody on the end of them… it's hard times here."

Fear not Masandawana fans. Sundowns may be playing like Brazilians (against Germany in the World Cup semi-final) but they will recover. They have too much quality to stay third-bottom of the PSL for long.

It's at the top of the table you have to raise hairy eyebrows. Before the season started Stuart Baxter, the firsts foreign coach to win a PSL title in his opening season in 2013, was under huge pressure. His loyal AmaKhosi were openly pessimistic about the new season with no big signings made (again) while Simphiwe Tshabalala and Bernard Parker were both out injured and Knowledge Musona was off fiddling with Hoffenheim in Germany and Granada in Spain.

Somehow, without their three major scorers from last season, Chiefs have won their opening three games with transfer-listed Mandla Masango scoring three and Reneilwe Letsholonwane two, including a cracker in an epic 2-1 win over Mpumalanga Black Aces last night.

But that's the new PSL trend. The rags to riches stories abound already. Aubrey Ngoma, making his debut on loan for Aces, produced an absolute scorcher to level at Mbombela, Ndumiso Mabena, another unwanted Pirate, scored two more last night to rocket to the top of the scorers charts and… and then there's Zeca.

He just wasn't supposed to beat Orlando Pirates and promoted Chippa United. But the Dube Birds have taken wing at the start of the marathon.

Hard to Swallows: the PSL table. Sundowns fans should view upside-down
Yup, the opening skirmishes of the PSL have been great. 12 goals in the opening round. 20 in the second. 32 goals in 16 games ain't a bad start. It's not just about goals, it's an attitude. Say it out loud: "We can't afford to lose" or "Win at all costs". You know the latter makes sense.

I have just one negative I feel I have to offer. While all this is going on, our newly appointed national coach Shakes Mashaba flew off to Cameroon with South Africa's Under 20s yesterday. Yes, he loves his AmaJitas.

But while he's off trying to qualify for the Under 20 AFCON and World Cup, our senior Bafana Bafana face Sudan away in barely a fortnight, unless Ebola scuppers the whole thing. Then we've got Nigeria in Cape Town.

And Shakes isn't even here to attend PSL games, talk to coaches, assess players first hand. It's not normal. Just like signing a deal with an unknown, unstarted SiyayaTV is not normal. Especially when the national broadcaster wasn't even involved in discussions.

It's all very strange. But for now, let's just keep enjoying the goals. The rise of Mabena, Masango and all those other unfashionable stars.

We'll worry about Bafana at the end of the month. A lot.

SOCCERBALLZ! my innovative football show on with Mark Fish airs every Thursday from 9am-11am. See Ballz' channel for our growing library of fascinating football interviews with the big names. Ballz will also provide daily World Cup updates from next week.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday in 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The world according to Shakes: How Mashaba plans to sort out AFCON, finishing... and Mamelodi Signdowns

Fiery baptism: new Bafana boss Shakes Mashaba
ON an opening PSL weekend dominated by poor finishing, a poor pitch and the poor upsetting the rich, Shakes Mashaba has revealed his plans to revive South African football.

The sensible choice as Bafana Bafana’s new national head coach MUST hit the ground running with a hectic AFCON 2015 qualifying schedule looming next month. In the space of four days at the start of September he must survive a trip to Khartoum, Sudan and a home clash with Nigeria in Cape Town.

That’s some fiery baptism, and one that could be upset by the Ebola outbreak before qualification ends on November 19. Shakes says: “We have to finalise the technical staff. Then we’ll announce a squad for a four-day camp before those opening two matches.

“I wish I could turn back the hand of time to give us more room to prepare but I can’t.”

Some would say he might have cut short his time with the AmaJitas on their friendly tour of West Africa which shortened his preparation time by nearly a fortnight after his appointment. Two draws and two defeats suggest it was hardly the perfect trip.

But Shakes opted to stick with his Under 20s and - having named their squad today - will probably join them for the trip to Cameroon next week despite the pressing concerns of picking, preparing and refining a senior squad.

Though the last 10 years have been dominated by youth coaching, Mashaba insists he can handle the top level again: “Without any fear I’m on the mark when it comes to coaching. I doubt nothing about my ability and I can do nothing about those who do.

“In September there’s be a FIFA symposium in Egypt to look at the latest trends from the World Cup, like all progressive coaches in the world, I’ll be there.”

As for the glaring problems in our domestic league, Mashaba reckons: “We have two main challenges, match intelligence and finishing.

“The problem with our finishing situation is technique. It’s killing us. There are elementary things that must be drilled in to our players at the development stage.”

Refreshingly, amid the glib solutions, Mashaba is prepared to take on the Mamelodi Sundowns monopoly. The current champions, aka Moneyloani Signdowns, tend to buy up most of the local talent and loan out large numbers of their 60-plus squad while refusing to allow those players to play against them.

Pitso says: “I will speak to Pitso. Sundowns are not breaking any laws but how are they going to measure if these players are any good?

“I’d be happier if they erase this clause that says you, if we loan you, you don’t play. They’ve got to let loaned players play against them and see if they’re on their level.”

If he tackles that problem, Mashaba will be a hero. If he solves the national goal-scoring conundrum, even more so. But the fact remains, failure in those opening two AFCON qualifiers next month will end the honeymoon for a man who, in his previous attempts, won 12 and lost just two with the senior national side.

Mashaba says: “I know I’m nothing without support. I know there’ll be times when we cruise smoothly, times when we hit turbulence.

“We must not be swallowed by each moment. When we win we must know that sometimes we’ll lose. When we lose we must know that we have to repay that by winning.”

And on the thorny problem of non-selection of foreign stars which derailed Mashaba’s reign a decade ago, he told the Sunday Times: “Players that will be with my Bafana are the patriotic ones who won’t be told to honour this call-up and not that one. For people to say they don’t want to play for the national team is not on.

“All of us must be committed to reviving the kind of football we know we can play and bringing back joy to the faces of our people.”

SOCCERBALLZ! my innovative football show on with Mark Fish airs every Thursday from 9am-11am. See Ballz' channel for our growing library of fascinating football interviews with the big names. Ballz will also provide daily World Cup updates from next week.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday in 

Quotes in this article courtesy of Sunday Times question and answer session last Sunday. My requests for a personal interview with Shakes fell on deaf ears!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The PSL is back: and new Bafana boss Shakes Mashaba weeps

Tears for fears: Shakes Mashaba
SHAKES MASHABA arrived back in South Africa early yesterday morning, burst in to tears and lamented the quality of the players he has available as South Africa's new national head coach.

It wasn't vastly encouraging.

This weekend, we get the chance to see what he's talking about. With Home Affairs getting sticky over work permits, the PSL is likely to kick-off without ANY foreign stars due to paperwork issues.

Mamelodi Sundowns presents the most interesting argument. Their Zimbabwean duo Cuthbert Malajila and Khama Billiat both played in Saturday's shock 2-1 MTN8 defeat against Platinum Stars but are (as of this morning) not registered to start the League campaign this weekend, along with Ghanaian Rashid Sumalia and Zambian Mukuka Mulenga.

Nigerian Ejike Ezoenye is back home waiting for his stamp and even Belgian back-up goalkeeper Glenn Verbauwhede, who claimed a work permit through the "financial independence" route remains unregistered.

But for captain Alje Schut from the Netherlands and Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, as well as Mozambique's Elias Palembe, their registration as "naturalised citizens" means they miss the big foreign cull which will - barring last minute Home Affairs paper shuffling - cast a shadow over the opening weekend of the PSL season.

But for Mashaba, the 64-year-old about to embark on his FOURTH stint with Bafana Bafana, this should provide a perfect opportunity to see a couple of sidelined South Africans, surely?

Mashaba arrived back from his West African tour with out Under 20 AmaJitas lamenting: "We still have to groom players. We haven't had good players since 1996. We don't have players who can change a game. We have to look at young players to close the gap."

And he should know. The tour produced distinctly mediocre results. While our Under 17 AmaJimbos under Molefi Ntseki were hammering Tanzania 4-0 en route to next month's clash with Egypt in a final African Youth Championship qualifier, Mashaba's older generation lost to Mali and Ivory Coast while drawing with Senegal and Burkina Faso.

Mashaba, nearly overwhelmed at times by emotion in his first press conference since his surprise naming as national coach ahead of Carlos Queiroz and Frank Rijkaard nearly a fortnight ago, said: "It's even more difficult to take this job because I love the junior national teams. it's not nice to start a project and break off from it.

"I was excited but now I realise their is so much work to do."

You'd think Mashaba would have though about all this before he took the job. His emergence as a candidate only really gained momentum in the final days before Danny Jordaan's long-awaited announcement. Yet he continued on his grand tour of the north despite having the AFCON 2015 qualifiers against Sudan, Nigeria and Rwanda to prepare for early next month.

Still, he's back. Having missed fairly impressive opening round of MTN8 games, he'll get to see Moroka Swallows - missing their three Eastern European signings - at Orlando Pirates in the oldest Soweto Derby on Saturday at 8.15pm. That match is sure to grap all his attention though SuperSport United will be playing Gavin Hunt's title contenders Bidvest Wits at the same time.

Kaizer Chiefs go to Free State Stars at 3pm,  while Polokwane City are at Amatuks. Chippa United, who bounced straight back up from the NFD, entertain Platinum Stars at 6pm, presumably without their biggest off-season signing Fatau Dauda, the Ghana World Cup goalkeeper.

Sunday sees AmaZulu, aiming for a top four spot according to coach Craig Rosslee, take on Roger de Sa's youthful Ajax Cape Town and Bloemfontein Celtic, under new management, have got Clive Barker's Mpumalanga Black Aces, both games at 3pm.

But in truth, all eyes will be on Pitso Mosimane's Mamelodi Sundowns when last year's champions Masandawana entertain Steve Komphela's modest Maritzburg United in Atteridgeville in the opening game tomorrow night at 8pm.

That 2-1 defeat against Dikwena, who wept crocodile tears over the Southampton-like departure of a host of major stars during the winter, puts Pitso under immediate pressure. With 17 players due to go on loan from Masandawana's huge squad and the foreigners likely to be ruled out, the pressure is already on.

But given the money they've spent and the vast squad of players they've assembled, would Sundowns fans want it any other way?

SOCCERBALLZ! my innovative football show on with Mark Fish airs every Thursday from 9am-11am. See Ballz' channel for our growing library of fascinating football interviews with the big names. Ballz will also provide daily World Cup updates from next week.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday in 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

FOURMIDABLE! South Africa's U17 AmaJimbos crush Tanzania... and are one step from Niger

Master Stroke: AmaJimbos coach Molefi Ntseki
THREE weeks ago I said the future of South African football was bright. On Saturday afternoon at Dobsonville Bafana Bafana’s Under 17 stars proved my point.

In a rousing second leg clash, the AmaJimbos blasted FOUR without reply against tormented Tanzania, a result which will send a serious message to their final obstacle before the African Youth Championship in Niger next year – Egypt or Congo.

Watched by about 1,000. including South Africa’s Banyana Banyana women’s team, Dobsonville was dazzled by coach Molefi Ntseki’s lovable lads.

In front of 5,000 in Dar es Salaam a fortnight ago, South Africa’s finest teenagers were unable to score on the rubber-based astro-turf of Azam Football Club, a surface described as “heavy” by their inexhaustible captain Nelson Maluleke.

On the dry Gauteng surface at Dobsonville, the tidy home of Moroka Swallows, the AmaJimbos thrived. Tanzania went behind after just four minutes and despite an attempted second-half revival a mixture of South African winter – some of the Serengeti Warriors were wearing gloves (!) – altitude and pure pressure led to rapid submission.

It was surprise striker Edwin Sekhwama, drafted in from the School of Excellence, who opened the scoring, breaking clear to poke the ball under Tanzania keeper Metacha Mnata after just four minutes.

Before the match, assistant coach Shawn Bishop told me: “We’re playing Edwin alone up front, with Mamelodi Sundowns’ winger Notha Ngcoba changing wings to bamboozle Tanzania.”

It worked like a charm. Though the first half failed to produce another goal – leading to a rollicking at the interval from coach Ntseki – Bafana’s young guns were in charge for the first 45 minutes.

And when Tanzania threatened to grab what would have been a decisive away goal early in the second half, SuperSport United goalkeeper Mondli Mpota produced a brilliant one-handed save, denying Seif Said Seif, to keep South African noses in front.

The visitors rattled Mpota’s bar with a free-kick too, but then Ntseki changed things, going with three up front and throwing on Port Elizabeth lad Khanyisa Mayo, son of former Bush Bucks and Kaizer Chiefs striker Patrick.

Supersub Mayo finally ended the Tanzanian resistance, stabbing home a near-perfect cross from Sekhwama and then bravely heading a second over the advancing Mnata to make it 3-0.

And a rousing victory was capped by the goal of the day from Thendo Mukumela, who came romping forward, beat two down the right, then cut in to score a sensational fourth.

Ntseki – and the entire SAFA contingent – were cockahoop afterwards. “I call this Operation Niger,” said Molefi afterwards, “I knew we would find a way past Tanzania, and we did. Now we are one step from the AYC in March next year against Congo or Egypt. I don’t care who we get, we’ve proved we can score goals and win crucial games.”

If the AmaJimbos reach the semi-finals in that tournament, the top four African sides automatically qualify for the World Cup in Chile next year which, Ntseki admits, “would be quite an achievement.”

Perfect timing: Centre back Keanu Cupido
But for now, South Africa can celebrate a serious triumph after the obstacles placed in their way in Tanzania a fortnight ago, where a nearby Mosque kept the players up all night in a hotel with poor food and one rickety lift.

On a run of six games unbeaten - the AmaJimbos won four friendlies on artificial surfaces in Botswana and Lesotho before the trip to Dar es Salaam - serious optimism pervades the group, anchored by the timing of towering Keanu Cupido, the rock solid centre-back from SuperSport United. Rarely have I seen a Bafana selection look so complete.

The highlight? Captain Maluleke hugging my son Matthew, 9, afterwards, grinning, high-fiving. “We did it!” he yelled. "Now for Egypt!"

Oh, and THIS video of the singing in the tunnel before the game. South Africa flummoxed the Tanzanians with their singing at Azam in the first leg. And when the visitors attempted to turn the tables in Soweto, the AmaJimbos simply raised the roof. Quite a curtain raiser.

SOCCERBALLZ! my innovative football show on with Mark Fish airs every Thursday from 9am-11am. See Ballz' channel for our growing library of fascinating football interviews with the big names. Ballz will also provide daily World Cup updates from next week.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday in 

Kingston Nkhatha's wonder goal for Kaizer Chiefs against Aces at Soccer City is too good not to see again. Have a long at the Zimbabwe striker's effort HERE... it's as good as anything you'll see globally this weekend: