Friday, 28 November 2014

21 today! My effort at Soccer Laduma's "7 Taps for 7 Lives" challenge

Here it is, my entry for Soccer Laduma's "7 Taps for 7 Lives" challenge. All you have to do is register at and then video YOUR best effort at football juggling.

SA Blog Awards Badge

Inspired by's Clint Roper, the challenge has gone out to celebrities Robert Marawa, DJ Fresh, Bob Skinstad, Benni McCarthy, Steven Pienaar, Itumeleng Khune and Kermit Erasmus.

Get ot there and do YOUR taps after you've read THIS:

Friday, 21 November 2014

THE MYTHICAL BEAST AB DE VILLIERS: is there anything the Proteas captain isn't good at?

I don’t  often stray from the football field these days. In the past, I’ve written rugby World Cups; reported on England cricket tours, covered Olympics… but this twittered image outlining the achievements of South Africa’s cricket captain AB De Villiers has got me straying away from soccer.

Can one man REALLY achieve all that? Is this a massive wind-up?

His cricket credentials are NOT IN QUESTION. Abraham Benjamin De Villiers is 30 and is currently averaging 90 with the bat in Australia. Voted the world’s best One Day batsman by the ICC earlier this month, he tops the ODI rankings, is 2nd in Tests and just this morning he weighed in with another match winning knock at the fabulous Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The records are endless in all formats. Even South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, absent from parliament  for months, had time for this quote while at the G20 conference in Australia: “Mr de Villiers has done the country immensely proud with his sterling achievements and we wish him all the best going forward.”

He doesn’t just bat like a whirlwind. A couple of summers ago, AB took the gloves when Mark Boucher’s career was sadly curtailed; he’s a top class wicket keeper and averaged 56 while he was behind the stumps.

He also fields like Jonty Rhodes with a superb eye for a catch and a rocket-like throw … oh, and lately he’s been getting a couple of wickets with his dibbly-dobbler bowling.  Yes, Jacques Kallis was a great all-rounder… but how many can bat, bowl, field and keep wicket?

But let’s move away from cricket. As a youngster, De Villiers showed prodigious talents in all fields. He recalls: "When I was 10 I decided I was going to do something in sport one day." Full details are hard to track down but it appears he is a phenomenon when it comes to tennis, badminton, swimming, golf, sprinting and, predictably, rugby.

Just for kicks: AB takes on Dale Steyn
A Manchester United fan – he still lists Cristiano Ronaldo as his favourite player – De Villiers was a useful football at primary school in Bela Bela (Warmbaths) and played at provincial (state or county) level as an Under 12. Some even suggest he was picked for a national junior squad.

Once a scratch golfer (which means he generally goes around the course in par) now playing off nine; AB was the ultimate sporting all-rounder at Pretoria’s sports factory, otherwise known as Affies.

When he wasn’t playing cricket with brothers far older than him, AB was on a tennis court. In his first competitive match, he beat future Davis Cup star Izak van der Merwe, and he was considered a real prospect until he gave up the racket for the bat aged 13.

As a pre-teen in Warmbaths he was offered a place at Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy in Florida, but turned down the chance to join the likes of Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova. Again, there are claims he was picked for South Africa’s “junior Davis Cup” squad. Incredible.

Hockey and rugby occupied his winters at Pretoria’s Afrikaans Skool for Boys. AB played provincial hockey before the rugby-mad staff persuaded him to join the odd-shaped ball religion and he was soon playing in the first XV at one of the top rugby schools in a nation known for the 15-man game. Again, he was offered a place at the Blue Bulls academy over the road. Again, he declined. But then wouldn't you?

Athletics wise, AB broke the local 100m record at junior level (Usain Bolt admitted the other day "AB is seriously fast across the ground") and, though I can find no independent verification, they say he STILL holds six national swimming records in a nation which has produced golden swimmers like Chad Le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh.

There’s more. Lots more. The story about receiving an award from the late great Nelson Mandela for a science project. And making a music album called Maak Jou Drome Waar (Make Your Dreams Come True) with singer-songwriter Ampie du Preez.

But that’s probably enough. The bloke excels on all fronts. Abraham Benjamin de Villiers: You are a legend.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

BAFANA SEND CHAMPIONS NIGERIA CRASHING OUT: Tokelo Rantie double leaves Super Eagles grounded. Now for Equatorial Guinea

TAKE THAT: Dean Furman joins Tokelo Rantie's celebration
CHAPTER ONE of the Shakes Mashaba miracle is complete. In six remarkable games across four short months, the “cheap but sensible” option has led South Africa to AFCON 2015 qualification amid a whirlwind of renewed optimism. Carlos Queiroz, we never needed your R22m-a-year assistance.

Last night in Uyo, Bafana Bafana were two injury-time minutes from their first ever competitive win over Nigeria, their first triumph over the so-called Super Eagles since 2004 in 11 attempts. But that serves only to mask the fact that, beyond all expectation, they’d gone to the brand new Akwa Ibom stadium knowing  they would finish as Group A winners NO MATTER WHAT.

Tokelo Rantie, my Man of the Match against Sudan on Saturday and again last night, had a chance to make it 3-2 and complete his hat-trick in the dying moments, with Vincent Enyeama’s save reducing Mashaba to head-stroking frustration (videos of both Rantie goals, from Soccer Laduma's Joe Crann, feature BELOW).

Though Mzanzi will emerge this morning knowing victory was torn from our grasp, we should also wake up to the fact that Steve Keshi’s African champions are OUT, given the final shove by Bafana as Congo picked up the 1-0 victory they needed in Sudan.

For much of the first half, Nigeria ran rampant, capitalising on Mashaba’s decision to give Reneilwe Letsholonwane a run in midfield ahead of the ever-improving Andile Jali. Yeye left captain Dean Furman over-run in midfield as Doncaster Rovers’ finest struggled to contain Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel.

38 minutes: Tokelo Rantie's superb opening goal from @yeswecrann
That turbulent period saw Tefu Mashamaite, standing in for young Rivaldo Coetzee at centre-back, struggle next to his table-topping Kaizer Chiefs centre-back partner Tower Mathoho. Only a series of superb saves from Darren Keet denied the lethal Ahmed Musa as Bafana struggled to stay afloat.

Up front, Kermit Erasmus – a late replacement for flu stricken Bongani Ndulula – was substituted before half-time and his replacement Moeketsi Sekola simply disappeared along with midfielders Mandla Masango and Oupa Manyisa. Things didn’t look good. The social networks were creaking with cruel critique.

But then, either side of half-time, Bournemouth’s substitute striker Rantie did his stuff. Twice he blasted a huge hole in the Nigerian defence. Twice he beat the great Enyeama. Twice he silenced the home support.

But once Yeye had been red carded by Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn, Nigeria were always going to come back. Seconds after I tweeted about the dangers of a home goal, the Super Eagles had equalised and, in the desperate five minutes of “Fergie time”, along came the equaliser – both scored by supersub Sone Aluko.

I predicted a draw when I previewed the game on ANN7 yesterday (see previous entry) and a draw it was. By a whisker.

Afterwards Mashaba, in a splendid striped shirt, was magnanimous: “We soaked up the pressure in the first twenty minutes, that was the plan. Then we got the two goals. But we lost our shape at the end, we stopped man-marking.

“But football is a matter of luck. We should have beaten Nigeria in Cape Town too. Now I have to organise three or four friendlies before the tournament in January.

53 minutes: Rantie's second goal and it could have been 3
“We are not going to Equatorial Guinea to make up the numbers. We are going to compete. If anybody takes BafanaBafana for granted, they will do so at their peril.”

He’s right of course. After all, Shakes knows best. A quick look at the seven qualifying groups shows only South Africa, Tunisia, Senegal and Gabon finished unbeaten. Even mighty Algeria, currently Africa’s top side, slipped at the final hurdle.

The qualifiers with unsuspended hosts Equatorial Guinea in January? South Africa, Congo, Algeria, Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Cape Verde, Zambia, Senegal and Tunisia finshed in the top two. DR Congo qualify as best third-place finishers after once-mighty Egypt stumbled in Tunisia.

Captain Furmidable, whose dentist dad Ronnie from north London has promised to travel to Equatorial Guinea with me in January,  said: “It shows how far we’ve come when we’re disappointed with a draw against Nigeria away. We’ve got a good group, we play as a team. There are things we have to work on, but everybody is looking forward to January. We are looking good.

“Shakes Mashaba has installed a pride in the team and you saw that on the pitch today, we fight for the shirt, we want to win every ball, score every goal. We have a very focused group and that’s down to the coach.”

Fine uplifting words in a nation where even the pale people are starting to sit up and take notice, as they did in the 1990s when Clive Barker – like Mashaba, a motivator rather than a master tactician – had Bafana playing a key role in Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation.

The draw for AFCON 2015 takes place on December 3. Then friendlies. January looms. Optimism grows. But for now, after a qualifying campaign beset by Ebola, bans and murder, a final thought: Thanks Senzo Meyiwa. You were the foundation. You were never beaten.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The final word on Nigeria v South Africa: We've qualified. The Super Eagles haven't. A draw would be a great result

PETE'S SAKE: With Peter van Onselen on ANN7 today
TONIGHT will not be for the faint-hearted, When South Africa kick-off against Nigeria at the Akwa Ibom "Nest of Champions" stadium in Uyo, Nigeria, there is history. And two possible futures.

If Shakes Mashaba's unbeaten Bafana Bafana can produce a result - either a draw or a win - the Super Eagles are in serious trouble. They go in to the game knowing they have to better Congo's result against Sudan or they run the risk of failing to qualify for AFCON 2015.

This morning on ANN7, the South African 24-hour news channel on DSTV 405, I pointed out how pleased we would have been, barely four months ago, to reach this final showdown with South Africa already secure at the top of Group A. It's not just a marvel, it's a near-miracle.

Mashaba, as I have said before, has had to withstand injury to his captain Itumeleng Khune before he even got started, the Ebola outbreak, troubled times with overseas-based stars Kamahelo Mokotjo and May Mahlangu AND THE MURDER OF HIS UNBEATEN CAPTAIN SENZO MEYIWA have all struck since.

No coach should have to face such things. But Shakes has. And he goes in to tonight's showdown with a record of FIVE games, THREE wins and TWO draws. But still the blows keep coming. This afternoon we were told big AmaZulu striker Bongani Ndulula is OUT with flu and that Orlando Pirates front-runner Kermit Erasmus will replace him in the starting line-up.

I told Peter van Onselen this morning on ANN7's Vuka: "Mashaba is tactically good, his selections are often controversial, but his major strength is motivation, he's like Sir Alex Ferguson" and I cited as evidence the way Shakes unleashed a verbal outburst which got Bournemouth's Tokelo Rantie fired up to score against Sudan last Saturday.

Shakes, seven years younger than the now-retired Scotsman, will need all his fiery team-talks and cuss-packed pitch-side rants to get Bafana going tonight. Nigeria HAVE TO WIN. They have over 200 players in Europe, we have barely 20. The Super Eagles traditionally get one over on South Africa, most recently at the CHAN tournament, where a 3-1 triumph left Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula frothing at the mouth.

In ten attempts, South Africa have beaten Nigeria just once - in 2004 - losing SEVEN TIMES.

There has never been a better time to overcome that hoodoo. The home leg of this qualifying tournament saw a 0-0 draw in Cape Town. Then, coach Steve Keshi was on the way out, Africa's top goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was mysteriously unavailable and FIFA were threatening to ban the Nigerian Football Federation for governmental interference.

Tonight Enyeama plays, the NFF are back on track, and the new stadium will be humming with the anti-South African feeling Mashaba has talked about in the past. EVERYONE wants to beat us, the length of Africa.

But captain Dean "Furmidable" Furman knows all that. He says:"We are out to remain unbeaten. We know Nigeria will be tough, but this is not just about football, it's about the fans, the nation."

A win tonight would be a dream. A draw is the most optimistic prediction I'm prepared to offer. A defeat is likely when one side is desperate to qualify, the other is already through. Of course, Nigeria could yet qualify as the best third-placed finisher for Equatorial Guinea in January.

The bottom line is, South Africa would do well to stop Nigeria qualifying. Then Algeria would be the main threat. Their French-based revival will be hard to stop. But with Africa's big guns all on the brink tonight, South Africa could be ready to assume their rightful position near the pinnacle of the continent's footballing ranking.

And a point tonight will be just the first step on the way. What ever happens, Shakes Mashaba, the cheap but sensible option after Gordon Igesund, YOU KNOW BEST.

My ANN7 interview is HERE;

For better quality, try THIS:

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Four months of Shakes Mashaba: Ebola, no-shows and murder but Bafana Bafana are going to AFCON 2015

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.”

Monday, 10 November 2014

MARK FISH: I stopped breathing. My daughter saw angels around me. But I'm fine now. And I'll be at Manchester United legends game

On the road to recovery: Fish and me
South African football legend Mark Fish is “doing great” in hospital in Vereeniging, South Africa today after suffering from chest pains on Saturday evening.

Fish had difficulty breathing at his home on the banks of the Vaal River, complaining of chronic back pains. He was rushed to hospital by his partner Salome van Rensburg and a friend.

This morning  the father of four underwent tests and emerged “feeling fine” with Salome saying: “He’s so chilled it’s shocking!”

Speaking after his procedure this morning Fish told me: “I’ve been having problems with my back for some time. On Saturday, my lips went blue, my body went white. I was struggling to breathe. Salome and her friend Nadia, 10kg lighter than me, had to take me to the hospital. You can imagine!

“On the way I stopped breathing. I don’t remember any of that. My daughter said there were angels around me, then she said: "You'll be fine daddy".

“I’ve had an angiogram and some other tests, tubes and dye and things like that. The doctors are saying my heart’s fine. They said I've got fantastic lungs, but told me to stop smoking. I bet they’ll say the same to you! They can’t find anything wrong, nothing.

“But look, this was a warning. I haven’t been doing the right things. I have to change my life-style. I started swimming but nothing hectic. Used to gym three times a week, been doing none of that. You know what’s it been like, I’ve been fixated on business… and stress. That isn’t good for any of us.

Happier times: on air with Mark Fish, left
“But I’m feeling great now. I’ll show my face at the Orlando Pirates versus Manchester United legends game on Saturday out of respect to Senzo Meyiwa but I won’t be playing.

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be back on my feet in no time.”

Fish, 40, starred in both Bafana Bafana’s only AFCON triumph and Orlando Pirates’ only African Champions League victory in the 1990s before taking his skills as a towering central defender to Europe.

Most recently the former Lazio, Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic star became a household name for his role as a captain opposite Springbok rugby skipper Corne Krige in the South African reality show “Survivor”.

Though listed on the official facebook page as one of the players, he will not be able to play for the Pirates Legends on Saturday against Paul Scholes and company but is eager to "show my face" if he gets the all-clear from medical experts.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Pitso Mosimane post-match: after Sundowns semi-final defeat here's what he had to say

Under pressure: Pitso Mosimani
Less than six months after lifting the PSL title with Mamelodi Sundowns, coach Pitso Mosimane finds himself under fire following today's 1-0 TelkomKO semi-final defeat at Platinum Stars.

Pelted verybally and physically by KaboYellow fans after the game, the social networks erupted in scorn for the former Bafana Bafana boss. Some even suggested Masandawana only won the title last season because Kaizer Chiefs collapsed, saying they have been "lacklustre" throughout Pitso's reign.

Nobody can possibly agree with that. Any Arsenal (or AmaZulu) fan will tell you a championship is a magnificent achievement, anywhere, anyhow. And they can be as rare as a snow storm in the Sahara.

Pitso knows former Sundowns star Dove Wome is scoring for SuperSport, who reached the final with a 2-0 win over grieving Orlando Pirates on Saturday night. And he knows he is weighed down by the expectation which accompanies a club backed by biollionaire Patrice Motsepe.

But with SIX of our 17 PSL coaches already gone this season, would you REALLY get rid of the championship coach less than a third of the way through the season? Without further comment, here's what Pitso said after the game today. Judge for yourself whether he deserves the boot. I know what I think:

Difficult times, ey?

Our game-plan first half was good, I think it was perfect, we had movement, passing the ball well, chances being created, and - again - chances were not taken.

One chance ey? They came once. One chance and they score. I mean, there's nothing else that I can say really. These guys were coming to score and that was that. The game of football, they suck you in, one chance, one break, one mistake. When people suck you in, that's the problem.

It was a tactical mistake at the back between my two centre-backs. Against Pirates we had the same thing on the same side when Kermit Erasmus scored … and I addressed it, we worked on it, and it went well in all the other games since.

Again today... it pops up, I think my right centre-back could have covered my left centre-back, he was a little too far from him, and you lose a game like this ey? It's only that, nothing else, nothing else.

At the end of the day it's all on the coach. I discussed it, I spoke, we discussed it, we have done it, we have covered it … it happens again.

But I'm the coach, I take responsibility, it's my team … it means I'm not trying harder for them to do it more, but it's sad, the game of football goes like this. 

But I have to pep them up now, it's terrible hey, it's very sad... but it's okay.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Brilliant day for Bafana Bafana; a bad day for illegal guns. Hopefully.

The chosen one: Brilliant Khuzwayo
RARELY has a national football association had a tougher week to deal with. The loss of a current international captain is, thankfully, unique but utterly devastating. Yet the South African Football Association coped admirably.

Danny Jordaan, president for just over a year, has led with dignity throughout the Senzo Meyiwa tragedy – and in his unveiling of a gun amnesty in honour of our fallen captain, Jordaan deserves all the help he can get in a nation where all sections of the population love to keep a weapon in the closet.

Jordaan, a curious combination of authority and bashfulness, wheeled out some real big guns to back a campaign which will end with a Senzo statue (made up of melted gun metal) at SAFA House, right outside 2010 World Cup Final venue Soccer City.

Jordaan and Norman Arendse lead a group including human rights lawyer George Bizos, Gun Free South Africa’s Adele Kirsten, football legend Jomo Sono and THREE judges amongst others.

Not the Bafana squad; Jordaan and gun amnesty team
Jordaan captured the moment well: “It was Madiba who told us “Throw your weapons in the sea”.Guns destroy our society. We need your help to build this statue.”

I first tweeted about a gun amnesty in honour of Senzo on October 27 (see picture below) suggesting it was the one way Meyiwa's death might bring something positive.

On a day when Bafana and Bidvest Wits star Sbu Vilakazi revealed his parent’s home had been subjected to an armed robbery in Soweto last Saturday, Bizos said: "It usually takes a tragedy for people, a country, to say something needs to happen as a matter of urgency. It's not only about the death of the wonderful goalkeeper but also of the other 17 deaths that occurred that day. It's a matter that needs to concern every one of us, every citizen.”

Jordaan has achieved stability on the pitch too. With all our national teams showing signs of improvement, he then turned to Shakes Mashaba to announce the squad which will play Sudan at home (at the Moses Mabhida in honour of Senzo) on November 15 and Nigeria away on November 19, saying: “I have no idea what the team will be…”

Mashaba handled his role well too. He spoke of the pain of having to erase Senzo’s name at the top of the list and gave us Brilliant Khuzwayo and Siyabonga Mpontshane as Meyiwa’s goalkeeping replacements.

He also recalled May Mahlangu and Lehlohonolo Majoro for the first time since Gordon Igesund’s tenure, overlooking the claims of Kamahelo Mokotjo and David Zulu. Much could be said about those decisions.  But for now, #shakesknowsbest is the hashtag after four games, two wins and two draws leave Bafana needing just two points to ensure qualification for the Ebola-threatened African Cup of Nations in Morocco, scheduled for mid-January next year.

Tribute to Senzo: My gun amnesty tweet, Oct 27
It’s the goalkeeping situation which intrigues. Ronwen Williams, the SuperSport United stopper, was seen as the young pretender under Itumeleng Khune when Igesund ruled the roost. Moeneeb Josephs had even been mentioned.

But Khune’s Kaizer Chiefs stand-in Khuzwayo, a regular for Mashaba’s Under 20s, got the nod along with Mpontshane, not always the first choice at Platinum Stars.

Though Belgium-based Darren Keet should start against Sudan, Shakes may well turn to Khuzwayo, who is older than Williams but, paradoxically, less experienced. Remember, in those opening four Group A qualifiers, Senzo and South Africa have not conceded a goal despite the absence of Khune, injured before the opening trip to Sudan.

Up front, Majoro and Orlando Pirates team-mate Kermit Erasmus may get the chance to renew their club partnership, though Tokelo Rantie scored twice for Bournemouth in England last week. At the back, Tefu Mashamaite could grab the captain’s armband next to his Chiefs team-mate Tower Mathoho.

But this is Shakes. He doesn’t do the obvious. Young Rivaldo Coetzee from Ajax Cape Town started next to Mathoho against Congo, and though he lacks MashaMIGHTY’s physique and experience, the 18-year-old could enjoy a repeat performance; he didn't do a bad job.

Throughout his short spell, Mashaba has confounded the critics and gone his own way. While the likes of Ayanda Patosi, Mokotjo and Siyanda Xulu will spend the international break thousands of kilometres away, few can argue about saving on the air tickets if Bafana get the win they need next week.

My Bafana Bafana line-up would look like this: Keet; Ngcongca, Mathoho, MashaMIGHTY (capt), Khumalo; Serero, Mahlangu, Jali, Furman; Erasmus, Majoro.

It makes sense to me. Renew those club partnerships at centre-back and centre-forward; keep last year's PSL player of the year Vilakazi and Rantie as impact subs if the goals won't come, rely on Keet's experience.

But given Mr Mashaba’s ability to surprise, he may go with Khuzwayo; Ngcongca, Mathoho, Coetzee, Khumalo; Masango, Manyisa, Jali (captain), Furman; Ndulula, Rantie.

For now, #shakesknowsbest. And so does Danny Jordaan. We can only hope for plenty of shots and dozens of guns for SAFA over the coming weeks.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The season of Senzo: South African football begins the long, difficult struggle to return to normality

The final farewell: Orlando Pirates players sing for Senzo
This will be the season of Senzo Meyiwa. And not just for Orlando Pirates, whose grieving players so memorably sang him to his resting place at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday.

It will be all about Senzo, the Bafana Bafana goalkeeper shot in his prime. No matter how long the Kaizer Chiefs unbeaten run guns on; no matter how Sundowns and the AmaKhosi do in the African Champions League; no matter which club steps forward to claim the Telkom KO and Nedbank Cup. Whether the AFCON championship goes ahead in Morocco or not.

Every sad step of the rest of this summer will be played against the backdrop of enormous loss.  The senseless nature of his death and the sudden departure of a 27-year-old who did not concede a goal in four AFCON qualifiers under Shakes Mashaba makes that inevitable.

With Orlando Pirates scheduled game tonight (Tuesday) against Platinum Stars called off and the Bafana Bafana squad announcement delayed until tomorrow, we have not yet become accustomed to the hole left by the striker-turned-custodian who left uMlazi with borrowed boots aged 13.

Tomorrow Danny Jordaan will announce an amnesty on illegal guns, with the promise of a statue outside SAFA House erected from the melted-down weapons. National coach Mashaba will name a new No1 and captain from a pool featuring Belgian-based Darren Keet, experienced Wits University No 1 Moeneeb Josephs and SuperSport United’s forgotten man Ronwen Williams.

Personally I think Shakes, as is his custom, will go for the unexpected and call up Kaizer Chiefs stand-in Brilliant Khuzwayo, the man who replaced Itumeleng Khune, for the game against Sudan on November 15; a clash moved to the Moses Mabhida in honour of Meyiwa.

Find the killers: fans at the funeral
As for Pirates, when they resume their campaign in the Telkom KO semi-final against SuperSport on Saturday, they have two alternatives Brighton Mhlongo, 23, or Philani Zikala, 31, to fill Senzo’s golden gloves.

Mhlongo has the Meyiwa feel to him: nine years in the Pirates structure, a couple of appearances in the first team behind Senzo and Fatau Dauda over the last year, a spell with FC AK three years ago.

There are reports of SAFA and the PSL allowing Pirates to sign a contracted goalkeeper outside of the transfer window due to the extra-ordinary nature of events last week. But goalkeeping gems are rare and risky, especially when you have a popular back-up like Mhlongo, who appeared to lead the singing for Senzo while God wept His slow, sullen drizzle over Durban on Saturday.

From the little we’ve seen of him, he looks like the right man rather than Zikalala, the former AmaZulu stopper who has yet to don the jersey. Former Pirates coach Augusto Palacios, the head of development at the club, reckons: “Brighton learned a lot from Senzo and he’s played for South Africa’s Under 23s. I don’t think they need to sign a new goalkeeper, Mhlongo can do the job.”

Those are the first stages of a nation’s rehabilitation: Senzo’s replacement at national and club level. Next, we will ease our pain by discussing how BafanaBafana and Orlando Pirates are coping without their Captain, our Captain.Will they come roaring back as a tribute to their departed team-mate or struggle with the weight of their loss?

I chanced across the Orlando Pirates players at King Shaka Airport after the funeral and shook hands with a bemused Vladimir Vermecovic. He knows how hard the task of rehabilitation will be. The loss of a player due to injury or suspension can unbalance the best of teams: to lose their captain and goalkeeper under these circumstances is a blow few clubs ever have to deal with. The Buccaneers themselves will measure the grief on the field as a further step forward.

Then comes the Mandisa versus Kelly debate as the estate (including the much discussed BMW X6) is carved up. The apprehension and charging of three suspects (or the failure to do so) and the debate over gun crime in Mzanzi. The naming of academies, stadiums and streets after our fallen hero. The gun-metal statue, which I think would be an eminently suitable memorable.

It will be a long and difficult road to recovery for football-speaking South Africa. Nobody doubts that. But what we can do without are the trolls, the jokers, the fascists who chip away at the whole sorry saga.

How a man like Gareth Cliff, a popular Idols judge who proclaims himself a "new South African" can sit watching a ceremony of such deep sorrow and think of tweeting: "Who is paying for this massive funeral" is entirely beyond me. Such a thought, let alone a public sentiment, betrays a deep malaise in South Africa, even among the so-called liberals. A deep misunderstanding of the dominant culture, cruelly surpressed for so long under Apartheid.

It wasn't the question which irked, it was the timing. The airport lounge I was sat in reflected the two camps quite brilliantly. The real Mzanzi watching the singing, the sadness, the who ceremony with deep respect and sadness, the old South Africa frowning, questioning, angry and confused.

But generally the nation has come together to commemorate the death of Our Captain. That in itself offers a glimmer of hope in a nation divided rather than united by sport, race and crime since the heady days of Nelson Mandela’s post-democratic Rainbow Nation.

The likes of Steve Hofmeyr, Dan Roodt and apparently even Gareth Cliff and his paler friends no longer rule this country or dictate its mood. The vast majority are stunned and saddened by Senzo's sudden death. The mourning has begun, the recovery is in progress, we unite in anger and celebration. Let’s try to carry on that way.

A shortened version of this story appears as my Neal and Pray column in today's