Sunday, 18 December 2016

AN UPLIFTING CHRISTMAS TALE: the Mahlambi brothers show giving has no limits

OUT FOR TEN MONTHS: Phakamani Mahlambi
IT'S Christmas. The time for giving. But what do you do when your little brother needs... a sparkling new hamstring?

Bidvest Wits teenager Phakamani exploded on our screens this time last season, scoring goals for fun and appearing to be, for all the hype, akin to our own Cristiano Ronaldo. Five goals and two assists in half a season. Incredible.

What was it Gavin Hunt said? “Phaks could beat you in a telephone box. He’s a real talent. He’s as good as Benni McCarthy at 18.”

But just when the Rio 2016 Olympics were beckoning, Mahlambi was struck down by a serious hamstring injury. No, not your everyday twang of the hammie, a serous rupture of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament against now-relegated AmaTuks on February 19.

The golden youngster slipped off our radar. For nearly ten months, all we heard was “needs surgery”, “long-term injury”, “extensive rehabilitation”… there was even talk of a career prematurely ended.

Though he still won the club’s Young Player of the Season award, it appeared another shooting star had fallen from the roof of the planetarium next to Wits University’s Milpark Stadium.

But no. On Saturday, against the luckless Free State Stars who are unlikely to feature in any pantheon of celestial objects soon, the star was reborn.

Coach Gavin Hunt, after seeing his side go second in the PSL with a 3-1 win, said: “I've seen Phakamani struggling with this injury every day for nearly ten months months. That’s a long time for a youngster to be out.

“The doctors said I shouldn’t play him. The physios said he wasn’t ready. But I thought bugger it, he must play tonight"

The rest is history. Phakamani, still just 19, marked his comeback with two goals. In one appearance he scored more than any Kaizer Chiefs striker this season.

The predictable Man of the Match award was claimed and the true Christmas Tale was finally revealed.

Phakamani confirmed what we first heard in June. He was back - with his brother’s hamstring replacing the one he tore. An incredible tale of sacrifice and family togetherness.

Mahlambi immediately summoned his brother and gave him the Man of the Match Trophy, saying: “They wanted to take something from a tendon to repair the hamstring.

“But that might have slowed my pace. Then my brother Mthobisi said 'No, take mine'. He is my hero, my everything.

"Today, both my parents are unemployed, half my salary goes to my family and I'm helping to build them a new home.”

The generous donor Mthobisi stepped up to the microphone with his brother’s silverware: “I’d like to thank my brother, the management, my family, everyone.

“We share blood, we share everything, it's such a great moment for me. I don't worry much about my hamstring. It's from my heart”

It’s been a long half-season. Banana Bafana failed to reach AFCON 2017 and Shakes Mashaba is suspended. Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates are struggling in mid-table. Mamelodi Sundowns were crowned champions of Africa but lost badly twice at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.

The Mahlambi brothers give us a  brief festive opportunity to celebrate the season of giving and forgiving. Forget the bitching about referees, knife-wielding thugs at Kaizer Chiefs games and falling attendances.

Soon, the PSL will break for Christmas. And they’ll stay away (barring late fixtures changes) until deep in to February.

Which should give us all a chance to reflect on the the elder Mahlambi, the brother who gave up a hamstring for the sake of his family. Happy Christmas!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

IT'S THE ENDO THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT: Sundowns dreams shot down in Japan

AT FAULT: Mamelodi Sundowns Ugandan
goalkeeper Denis Onyango
FOR a delirious 45 minutes on Saturday, KaboYellow fans had every right to believe they were headed to a glorious final against mighty Real Madrid at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. Then came 45 minutes of heartbreak, a second half exposing all that is wrong with South Africa football.

The first half at the Suita City stadium was a dream. Percy Tau was rampant, Khama Billiat had a couple of chances - one from all of four yards on the slide - and Pitso Mosimane looked secure in his Champions of Africa castle with the big back door.

Hitoshi Sogahata was the villain of the piece for Sundowns, who had NINE shots to Kashima’s NIL in those fantastic first 45 minutes. Bizarrely, FIFA had captioned the scoreline “ZSC” for Masandawana (obviously they thought Egyptians Zamalek had made it!) and didn’t correct in to “SUN” until the 2nd half… and by then, the fantasy was fading.

Sogahata, who has played all his life at the Antlers, is a mature 37, he’s played four times for Japan since 1998 but 462 times for his club. Three great saves kept Sundowns goalless, and then there was THAT miss from the usually lethal Zimbabwean Billiat, who put Tau’s excellent cross wide from inside the small box.

MISTAKE! Sundowns were dubbed "ZSC"
throughout the first half by FIFA
At half-time, optimism was sweeping the nation. With the game on SABC thanks to StarSat’s last-minute climb-down on exclusive coverage, the social networks were buzzing. Pitso was a genius. Tau was a lion, Dolly was more popular than Barbie. Onyango hadn't been tested in goal.

But from the first touch of the second half, the Antlers showed the value of a good team talk, and a touch of tactical acumen.

With their wing-backs tucking in, the midfield was reclaimed by the Japanese, Pitso might have seen it before me but he didn’t react. Not until THE ENDO OF THE WORLD, with Yasushi Endo picking up a Mu Kawasaki cross and beating Sundowns’ keeper Denis Onyango.

When I say it beat him, it wasn’t a pretty sight. The Uganda player of the year and PSL goalkeeper of the season made a hash of the close-range shot, it wriggled out from underneath his writhing body and was actually put in by his own hand/head reflex movement.

Shocking, particularly with Sogahata producing a near-perfect 90 minutes at the other end.

CORRECTED! But Sundowns went in to
 a serious decline in the second half
But there was worse to come. Pitso finally threw on Zwane, but it was already too late. Then came Liberian striker Antoine Laffour when Sundowns appeared to finally realise they had to score to survive.

But there was no great urgency. No radical change of shape. The Antlers had Sundowns by the horns. In a dramatic reverse of the first half, Sundowns barely mustered a threat on goal.

And when Kanazaki added a goal of his own with the Downs defense all over the place, the sinking feeling became titanic. All the shortcomings of South African football had been ruthlessly exposed. Poor finishing, late changes, lack of fitness, tired defending and we’ll have to say it again POOR FINISHING.

We got the usual afterwards from Pitso Mosimane, whose PSL and African champions are starting to develop a habit of inconsistency in recent weeks.  

Clearly unhappy, the post-match interview was mercifully short: “We played very well against a very good team. Obviously you could see our finishing was not very good in the first half. They took their chances and we didn’t.

“Disappointed? What do you mean? It’s football. We are professionals. For us it’s a very good learning curve. They passed very well.

“We are learning, we did well, we just couldn’t finish.”

And captain Hlompho Kekana, who simply disappeared in the second half, basically respected his coach: “If we’d taken one of the chances we’d created, the game would've changed. We must take lesson out of this game.”

Lessons? Learning curves? No. The FIFA Club World Cup doesn’t come along regularly for South African football. We needed clinical finishing, decisive substitutions, a solid goalkeeper.

But hey, at least they got to Japan. They play Korea's Jeonbuk on Wednesday morning in a 5th/6th play-off game that could earn the players plenty to add to their African Champions League bonus.

FIFA are offering  $1.5m for fifth and $1m for sixth. So the difference is $500,000. R7.5m. Nearly as much as Cape Town City FC won for their Telkom KO victory against SuperSport United on Saturday.

The Antlers go on to play Nacional from Colombia, with Real Madrid likely to be their final opponents. Sundowns didn’t even get close to Cristiano Ronaldo. It's enough to make a weepy nation howl.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

THE LITTLE LION: Percy Tau heads to Japan on top of the world

CHAMPIONS OF AFRICA: Percy Tau (front right) can't quite believe it!
THE PERCY TAU PHENOMENON IS REAL. There was a time, not a year ago, when the only thing the little lion at Mamelodi Sundowns had in common with Lionel Messi was his diminutive stature.

But with Leonardo Castro suffering that long-term ankle injury, Tau returned to the regular starting line-up during Pitso Mosimane’s fabulous “back-door” African Champions League triumph and he has NEVER looked back.

He was the little lad sitting looking bemused during the celebrations in Egypt after KaboYellow were crowned continental kings. He no longer had to bring a cushion to matches for a long stint on the bench. He was a major part of a phenomenal success.

It was all too much for the 22-year-old who only got his matriculation certificate last year.

Vital goals in Africa have been followed by great goals in domestic competition. His second goal on Saturday against Free State Stars was a thing over wonder, nearly as spectacular as THAT last-gasp overhead equaliser from Baroka’s Oscarine Masuluke against Orlando Pirates.

Tau picked up the ball near the halfway line, cut a swathe through the falling Stars defence and put it through the legs of a defender and the goalkeeper to make it 4-1 to Sundowns on a day of serious confidence-building.

On Monday, Sundowns flew off to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup with their heads held high. The shock defeat against Cape Town City on Wednesday was forgotten. Sundowns can go top of the PSL if they win all their games in hand.

Real Madrid and the rest of the world’s continental champions await them in Japan but Percy has an old head on those young shoulders. After yet another Man of the Match award, he said: “We did well, I just try to do what I know. The focus is on my football, nothing else.

”Yes, I do miss chances, but I’m happy to score two today.”

Coach Mosimane is nearly breathless in his praise: “Our boys, sometimes they can be naughty. We could have scored more. Percy at the moment is unbelievable. He’s scoring goals, and he’s growing, growing all the time.”

With Castro back in the starting eleven for the first time, Tau maintains his spot next to the CBD as the team heads for Japan. It gives Sundowns a lovely, free-running spirit to have Castro, Khama Billiat and Keagan Dolly up there with Tau.

Up to this point, general consensus indicated Tau, an academy product born in what was once known as Witbank, was way behind Dolly in the array of young South Africans who could break in to the top five leagues in Europe.

For years I questioned Dolly’s exclusion from the Bafana Bafana senior set-up. The same can be said for Tau, who never caught Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba’s agent-jaundiced eye with the national squad.

But with Dolly’s road to Olympiacos in Greece blocked by stubborn Sundowns officials insisting the R10m buy-out clause in his contract was “a mistake” it could be Tau, “lion” in English, will be the man to poach in Japan.

He has the talent. He has the personality. He has the touch. South Africa longs for a player other than Sunderland’s elderly Steve Pienaar playing in Europe’s “Big Five” leagues. For our young lion Percy Tau, as Sundowns fans say, the Sky is the Limit!

Saturday, 26 November 2016


TRAIL BLAZER: Eric Tinkler
RESURRECTION can be a tricky business. The last documented example was some bloke called Lazarus over 2000 years ago. And you wouldn’t expect him to get up and out-run all the healthy disciples gathered for his miraculous comeback would you?

But that’s exactly what Cape Town City have done. With some gusto. After opening their second coming with a 2-0 win over Polokwane City on August 23, born-again City beat a side called Kaizer Chiefs three days later.

Last month they beat African champions Mamelodi Sundowns amid a current run of SEVEN consecutive wins that has seen them top the PSL twice and reach the Telkom KO final. Saturday’s thumping 4-1 thrashing of Free State Stars in the TKO semi-final was no shock, it was simply further evidence of an astonishing rebirth.

John Comitis, the former Ajax Cape Town chairman who just last week fell off the PSL executive gravy train, appears to have successfully breathed life back in to the long dead football club known as Cape Town City.

The giants of the old all-white NFL, City won titles in 1973 and 1976, before they were officially buried after liquidation in 1979. African Warriors purchased the lifeless cadaver. There was no pulse, the club was six feet under, pushing up daisies.

But then along comes Comitis and, as I revealed two weeks before the face, the official unveiling decades after the faux cremation: Cape Town City FC were given a second life for a reported fee of R50m.

The brief five months since that announcement on June 29 have been eventful. Remember, Comitis did a deal with the Morfou brothers at Mpumalanga Black Aces to move their franchise 1,538km south.

Fourteen players made the journey. The PSL top scorer Collins Mbesuma was left behind. So was the much-vaunted junior link with Manchester City. And the fans from eMalahleni to Mbombela? Ignored.

It was a deal which broke FIFA rules, a deal which nearly led to Free State Stars being replaced in the PSL by twice-relegated Moroka Swallows. A deal which should NEVER have happened.

But Comitis is nothing if not determined to win a personal war against his old club Ajax Cape Town. He let Muhsin Ertugral, the Turkish coach who lifted Aces to a record fourth place last season, go to Orlando Pirates. In return, he picked up the man Irvin Khoza didn’t want to fire, Eric Tinkler as a sweetener.

With former Pirates assistant Craig Rosslee working behind the scenes, Tinkler added a few foreigners, adopted the old blue-and-gold City colours and somehow, after being “10 players short” a few weeks before the season started, he put out a side good enough to top the PSL and reach the TKO final before the club had got halfway to their first birthday.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how Tinkler has managed this. Lebogang Manyama was made captain after seven months of injury, Shu-Aib Walters is a vastly under-rated goalkeeper, Aubrey Ngoma, the former Orlando Pirates dynamo, picks up Man of the Match awards like confetti. Lehlohonolo Majoro, unwanted inland, made his way down the N1 to contribute a few goals.

Not a bad collection of journeymen. But as Tinkler said on Saturday, that's not the secret: “These players work for each other. That’s all a coach can ask for. I’m happy for them. That’s how it works here. This is an opportunity to make history.”

The man vilified for finishing seventh in the PSL and reaching the African Confederations Cup knows his stuff. He'll trouble Stuart Baxter in the TKO final against SuperSport United. I defended him all last season. He was a nugget on the field, and he’s proving just as tough on the bench in the Mother City.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Steve's looking increasingly Shaky: Kaizer Chiefs coach Komphela needs less words, more wins

TROUBLED TIMES: Steve Komphela and Orlando
Pirates coach Muhsin Ertugral, who has already fallen
THE demise of Kaizer Chiefs as THE footballing force in South Africa is just slow enough to escape labels like “crisis” and “disaster”. But it’s not far off.

Yes, we should be more worried about our national side. Banana Bafana beat Senegal, only for coach Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba to find himself suspended for the friendly 1-1 draw against Mozambique for “unacceptable behaviour” (finger wagging, accusing Danny Jordaan of "not supporting me" etc).

HELP REQUIRED: How most listen to Steve
Komphela's post-match interviews 
I am reliably informed Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic will leave Uganda, where the local FA are struggling to pay his salary, to take over South Africa after AFCON 2017 in Gabon next February.

Shaky will fight for his job. Micho may be persuaded to go elsewhere. But SAFA have 10 months to wait before they resume World Cup qualifying action against the Cape Verde Islands in August 2017. Kaizer Chiefs, apparently supported by 15 million South Africans (that number is falling fast) have no such luxury.

They are back in action on Wednesday night against their former coach Stuart Baxter’s SuperSport United at what may just be a near-deserted FNB Stadium.

There were plenty of fans for their clash at Loftus Versveld against Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday. So many it forced a 15 minute delay to the 3pm kick off. But it looked suspiciously like Masandawana’s KaboYellow were almost equal in numbers with the mighty AmaKhosi.

On the field, Sundowns have been ahead of Kaizer Chiefs for some time… probably since the day Baxter, who won the title twice in three years, decided to leave Bobby Motaung’s tortured regime weeks after his second championship.

Stuart told me he would leave if Bobbytrap, last week revealed in the Sunday World to have lost millions in a shopping centre deal, wouldn’t let him play a role in transfer dealings.

Of course Bobby, without a CV but in charge of the family business with his dad getting doddery, denied him that. And his replacement Steve Komphela has been suffering ever since.

Last season, under the sophisticated eye of Komphela, Chiefs finished fifth in the PSL after Motaung decided not to give PSL player of the year Tefu Mashamaite and top scorer Mandla Masango pay increases.

This season Bobby went a step further, publicly announcing a list of 20 players he wanted to get rid of, including R5m-a-year Siyanda Xulu and other players still under contract.

There were whispers of Komphela being not entirely happy. Especially when Motaung, having promised to lash out R50m on replacements, only spent about R5m on a bunch of free signings, two Chicken Inn Zimbabweans and Lewis Macha, a young Zambia playing in Mozambique.

I predicted disaster but Komphela confounded my pessimism with a strong start. While Mamelodi Sundowns - off winning the African Champions League - and BidvestWits fell behind in the fixture list, Chiefs made a cheeky trip to the top of the PSL.

But in truth, it was never going to last. Komphela has fiddled with his forwards, messed with his midfield and strewn his strikers all over the place.

His once-fantastic post-match talks have become mundane. Sometimes he’ll occasionally grasp for a phrase along the lines of “statistics are like a bikini, they don’t cover everything” but in truth we have seen him struck down by the pressure of running a big club having NEVER won a trophy in his career.

On Saturday, Sundowns were just too good for his bargain-basement squad. Chiefs scored a fortunate opener from what was clearly a Rama Mphahlele cross. Tebogo Langerman immediately hit back with an equaliser and Sbu Vilakazi - who always said he wanted to go to Chiefs but they refused to make a decent offer to Wits - produced a gloriously ironic winner.

Komphela produced the usual dross after the game, talking about concentration and improvement, but in truth referee Daniel Bennett allowed them to escape a clear Percy Tau penalty and Itumeleng Khune made a couple of good saves to keep the scoreline sensible.

And for the first time in 18 mediocre months, Komphela looks seriously vulnerable. Midway through the second half, he threw on injury-plagued free signing Keagan Buchanan as Chiefs searched for a winner. But instead of taking off defensive midfielder Willard Katsande, who wasn’t having his finest afternoon, he benched Siphiwe Tshabalala, who can always be relied on for a good delivery or a cunning free-kick.

That was the shaky substitution of a troubled coach. A defensive move when his side were crying out for attacking inspiration.

Komphela sent lofty defenders Tower Mathoho and Rama forward late on in an attempt to force an equaliser. But by then 87 minutes had been played. On the social networks, resignation had already set in. Another defeat, another disappointment.

Shakes Mashaba may be in difficulty with the national job. But I suspect Komphela is rapidly heading for the same fate. Big jobs demand big personalities. People who have won major silverware. Neither man measures up.

Monday, 14 November 2016

UTTERLY BAFANAS: Mashaba suspended, Rubber Doll in charge... but it won't end there for South African football

SUSPENDED: Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba
Bafana Bafana Head Coach Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba will not join the team on their trip to Mozambique as the Association has deemed it necessary to employ disciplinary measures after a regrettable incident at Peter Mokaba Stadium on Saturday, 12 November 2016.

Assistant Coach Owen da Gama will take charge of the team in the above-mentioned international friendly match against Mozambique on Tuesday, 15 November 2016 in Maputo.

As is our custom in matters such as these, the Association will not be making any further comments on this matter out of respect for the dignity of the Head Coach and the Association and the legally privileged nature of such proceedings.

This short statement from SAFA on Sunday, less than 24 hours after South Africa’s head coach Ephraim Mashaba had engineered a morale-boosting 2-1 win over mighty Senegal, came as a bit of a shock to football fans - and his Bafana Bafana team, who left for Mozambique for Tuesday night’s friendly in Maputo.

But in truth, the tide had been rising against Shaky ever since his abject failure to qualify for AFCON 2017. The battle raging within the walls of SAFA House over Mashaba’s future will not end soon.

Flash back to early September: After the 1-1 draw against Mauritania, a result which left South Africa in third place behind Group M qualifiers Cameroon, Danny Jordaan famously said: “This cannot be the beginning, this must be the end” and we waited, endlessly, for the failed Mayor of Port Elizabeth to swing his rusty axe.

Then came the BBC Africa interview with Nigerian-based Osasu Obayiuwana which included the immortal line from Jordaan: “Mashaba has to go, the uproar is too much.” SAFA head of communications rushed to Mashaba's defence, insisting nothing of the sort had been said. He was wrong.

Somehow, Mashaba survived to lead Bafana to their opening World Cup Group D qualifier in Burkina Faso. A farcical game, featuring a penalty-that-never-was against South Africa, ended in a 1-1 draw.

For months, I had been told SAFA’s warring factions had agreed a compromise solution: If Mashaba could get four points from his opening two games on the Road to Russia 2018, he would survive. Otherwise: OUT.

Then came Saturday’s farce. After 40mins under the cosh, Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey awarded another penalty-that-never was when Eleazar Rodger’s dive-header quite clearly hit Senegal defender Idrissa Gueye on the thigh.

Captain Tyson Hlatshwayo stuck the spot kick away and Thulani Serero added a second goal before the interval to give South Africa a deeply undeserved 2-0 lead. Senegal fought back to 2-1 but somehow Bafana survived to the final whistle to claim all three points.

Mashaba’s response was predictable… but understandable. He raved about the “football intelligence” of his players and ended by telling the SABC (he refused to speak to SuperSport): "Let me say to you, I've got to celebrate this win. It’s my second lease of life in football. I was already buried. The media had bought a casket for me. We weren't given a chance.”

That might have been enough to get Mashaba through the next 10 months - Bafana’s next World Cup qualifier isn’t until August 28 next year against Cape Verde - but Mashaba was simply unable to contain his glee.

With SAFA officials - and Mamelodi Sundowns billionaire chairman Patrice Motsepe - trying to offer their congratulations, months of fear and anxiety surfaced. Mashaba felt the need to ram his dubious victory down the throats of all present, including Jordaan and his CEO Denis Mumble.

Ever since Jordaan’s defeat in the mayoral race in Nelson Mandela Bay, Jordaan has been angling to get rid of Mashaba, if only to re-stamp his authority on the national football association. Shakes complained - vehemently and publicly - about Jordaan's "lack of support". He embarrassed his bosses. Though many would feel there was justification.

This was his excuse. Then came the press statement. And Bafana left for Maputo without their mentor, Rubber Doll Owen da Gama found himself thrust to the front of the queue.

Suspension for wagging a finger. Cut short in his prime for daring to have the last word. Mashaba will not go quietly. He earns millions as National Head Coach and many other avenues of income have opened up since he took over from Gordon Igesund.

HAPPIER TIMES: Mashaba and Jordaan, 2014
SAFA said yesterday: “Coach Mashaba has asked that we convey to the NEC, and the president of the Association, in particular, his sincerest apologies if he has offended anyone and he unreservedly asked for forgiveness for Saturday’s actions.”

That won't be enough. The longer-suffering SAFA media men (all Mashaba disciples) cannot end this dispute so easily. Expect another abject (but not quite genuine) apology. Expect legal threats. Expect weeks of turmoil around our national football team once more.

The only bright side is that SAFA have plenty of time to either re-instate Mashaba or appoint a replacement before Group D grinds back in to action with Bafana behind Burkina Faso on goal difference and Senegal lurking.

The question is: will Mashaba’s petty suspension shatter SAFA House or unite them? The victory over Senegal - no matter how it was achieved - has put Bafana in pole position in the Race for Russia.

We can’t afford a technical failure. Don’t think for a moment Jordaan, as president, will have the final say. His stock has fallen both in football and politics. This may be a battle Mashaba will win, if he plays his cards right.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

SENEGAL PAY THE PENALTY! Like a well-oiled machine, Bafana are firmly on the road to Russia

OUTRAGEOUS: Senegal players - and officials - were furious
when referee Joseph Lamptey gave handball for THIS, when
Idrissa Gana Gueye was clearly hit on the thigh 
THE defining moment of Bafana Bafana’s unexpected 2-0 win over the mighty Lions of Senegal on Saturday is not one to remember with any great pride.

It came after a tough 40 minutes for South Africa against a side packed with European stars on a muggy Polokwane afternoon. Eleazar Rodgers, who battled gamely throughout, dive-headed goalwards and quite clearly hit Senegal defender Idrissa Gueye on the thigh.

But this is where referee Joseph Lamptey and his mates earned that Moment of the Match award. With not a single appeal from Bafana, Lamptey pointed to the spot, awarding a quite unwarranted penalty to the home team. Replays show it went nowhere near that bandaged hand.

Even Mark Gleeson, the SuperSport commentator I grew up with in Clubview a million years ago, said: “Now that’s a hometown decision” before captain Tyson Hlatshwayo hit a tame penalty past Diallo, who got a hand to it.

Seconds later, with Senegal’s galaxy of EuroStars still stunned, Thulani Serero, Ajax Amsterdam’s non-playing midfielder, ran on to the ball as it left the box and the ball wriggled in to the corner.

After 40 minutes of admiring Senegal’s superior touch and distribution, Shakes Mashaba found himself with a 2-0 lead and a view of years of riches still to come. Not bad for a man who is constantly chided by SAFA president Danny Jordaan.

In direct defiance of his bosses (or some of them) Mashaba threw on Bradley Grobler, the 28-year-old SuperSport United striker in the second half, ignoring the man SAFA asked to come to South Africa for the first time in his life, Dutch-born Lars Veldwijk.

The 24-year-old, whose dad left South Africa aged 14, languished on the bench throughout, though his height - at 6ft 5in, just an inch smaller than our loftiest Tower Mathoho - might have helped.

Senegal fought back with substitute Ndoye scoring after a lengthy goal-mouth scramble featuring two goal-line blocks from Itumeleng Khune.

We should, we must, celebrate a victory over Senegal, now the second best side in Africa. Mashaba has us at 13 on the continent, these were three unexpected points, a real boost for the national squad after Mamelodi Sundowns equally unexpected African Champions League triumph.

Tiyani Mabunda, a surprise starter after his late call for the injured Dean Furman, said: "It wasn't easy in this game. I got a knock. It's nothing compared to what we've done for the nation.

"If this is what it takes to make the nation proud, I'm willing to go for it. The fans came out, they're signing gave us a push."

Mashaba, with his side now top of the qualifying group, said: "There's nothing else one can say. We are celebrating, we needed this win. Fans brought positive energy to the team. We should have scored four goals in this game if it was our lucky day.

"The two goals made life easy for us. They didn't expect us to score goals against them. I think we did very well.

"We always say to the boys, second half it's dangerous. Don't defend too deep. Senegal are too big, our back four did very well, Mathoho, Rivaldo.

"What about the match intelligence of the players individually? They did it. You don't need to be throwing the ball away. Fatigue took its toll. They were right on it, I'm telling you.

"This is one of the most hectic games they've played in their life."

He finished with: "Let me say to you, I've got to celebrate this win. My second lease of life. I was already buried. The media had bought a casket for me. We weren't given a chance."

All true of course. But somehow, it does’t feel right. The penalty, and several other decisions, appeared to go against the visitors. Senegal were clearly a technically superior side though, as South Africans know only too well, the well-paid foreign stars aren’t too good in such troubled situations.

We ended with Khune keeping Senegal out behind a shaky defence and going down injured as per the usual recipe. But the 2-1 lead stood until the final whistle.

Aliou Diouf, the Senegal coach, spent most of the game in a state of suspended disbelief, though Bafana fans may point to the opening game in Burkina Faso as another example of African refereeing at its finest.

My thoughts went back to that penalty-peppered 5-0 pre-World Cup win over Guatemala at the same Peter Mokabe ground in 2010. I said it at the time and it was confirmed later: match fixing, though the same people still run SAFA. Is it fair? Should we celebrate such an obvious case of dodgy refereeing?

Guess we have to. It won’t change. CAF can’t deal with lasers and flates, so referees and linesmen aren’t going to take any flak.

So congratulations Bafana Bafana. Good luck in Cape Verde. And Senegal. Months away (August 28 next year), but you may need it.

South Africa topped the group briefly but after Burkina Faso's 2-0 win over Cape Verde, here's Group D as it stands:

πŸ‡§πŸ‡« Burkina Faso 2 4
πŸ‡ΏπŸ‡¦South Africa 2 4
πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡³Senegal 2 3 πŸ‡¨πŸ‡»Cape Verde 2 0

Monday, 7 November 2016

MASHABA STANDS AT THE CROSS-ROADS: South Africa v Senegal will make or break Shaky

Lars Veldwijk, born in Holland,
sets foot in South Africa for the
first time today before joining
Dean Furman and Bafana Bafana
for Saturday's World Cup clash
against Senegal in Polokwane
DANNY JORDAAN and his national coach Ephraim Mashaba stand at a cross-roads on Saturday night. When Bafana Bafana face Senegal in Polokwane, one sign-post will read “Vision 2022 Avenue”, the other simply “Exit Road”.

It is, quite simply, Mashaba's glorious chance for redemption. Win, and be a hero. Lose (or draw) and Shaky is GONE.

Shakes, who has been shaky for sometime now, has long ignored the 86-page South African Technical master plan put forward by newly elected SAFA president Jordaan in October 2013. But for much of that time, it didn’t matter: Mayor Jordaan was off trying to save Nelson Mandela Bay for his beloved ANC.

During his lengthy absence from the hot-seat at SAFA House Jordaan famously said football was “just a hobby” and that he had “never earned a penny” from the job, despite evidence of an R80,000 honorarium just last year.

But once Jordaan had seen a man called Athol usurp him in the Eastern Cape, he came back with a bang, carrying the weighty Vision 2022 guide-lines like stone tablets from his political burning bush.

Having said “this cannot be the beginning it must be the end” after a final humiliating draw against Mauritania in AFCON 2017 Group M and having told BBC Africa’s correspondent “Mashaba cannot go on, the outcry is too great”, Jordaan finally made his Shaky frustrations clear on October 13.

And yes, the old Vision 2022 was at the heart of it. No matter than Mashaba continues to pick players who are not good enough for their club teams. Or that he got his son Thabo, a restaurant owner, to answer questions at a SAFA press confernce.

It was the dreaded Vision 2022 on the mind of Jordaan. He explained that Mashaba, after two years at the helm of South African football, had not fulfilled two of the major requirements of our nation’s footballing master-plan.

1 Mashaba was asked to provide a dossier on all South Africa’s foreign stars. Travel was required, and extensive research. Jordaan fumed: “We have a lot of overseas-based South African players that we don’t know much about and they are playing good football for their respective teams.”

2 Shaky was required to produce 24 names suitable for Qatar in 2022. This would consist of 8 players aged Under 17, Under 20 and Under 23. Again no progress: “He knows I want that list but I have not received it.”

Jordaan fumes: “This is what I’ve asked for and until today neither have been delivered. I asked him to give me a pool of players that we need to work on for our Vision 2022. The second plan was for him to go and assess players who are playing overseas.

“Neither of these programmes have landed on my desk yet, and I asked for them a long time ago.

“I believe these programmes are key elements to take Banana forward. I still want them and he knows it. If this doesn’t happen, I cannot be responsible for what happens.”

Typically, there was no response for Mashaba, other than to pick another squad laced with players who will be approaching 40 when the 2022 World Cup comes around. 

While Kamolhelo Mokotjo at FC Twente has just won Player of the Week, NONE of the foreign contingent picked by Mashaba - Andile Jali, Ayanda Patosi, Veldwijk, Thalani Serero and May Mahlangu - actually played for their clubs sides last weekend.

As for Vision 2022, Mashaba prefers to look for experience. Some of his domestic selections are understandable. 30-somethings Itumeleng Khune and the recalled Daine Klate are potential match-winners against a Senegal side packed with stars who perform every week in Europe. Keeper Khune has even started taking free-kicks around the opposition box for Kaizer Chiefs, perhaps he will argue over who takes with dead-eye Klate on Saturday.

Given Mashaba’s Afcon 2017 failure - Bafana finished third in Group M behind Cameroon and Mauritania - a significant improvement will be required to top World Cup 2018 Group D where the going is a lot tougher.

The heart-breaking 1-1 draw against Burkina Faso led to reports that Jordaan already had Mashaba’s replacement lined up - former England boss Roy Hodgson was mentioned along with the usual suspects - but from deep within the bowels of SAFA House, my source informs me Mashaba has allies.

Jordaan's blustering was ignored and publicly refuted. The compromise plan was hatched before the World Cup campaign began: if Mashaba could manage four points from his first two qualifiers, he would remain in place and Vision 2022 would have to take a back seat.

But if that four point target is not reached - in other words if Bafana don’t beat Senegal at the Peter Mokaba Stadium on Saturday evening - Mashaba will be GONE.

Worryingly, that would mean the new coach taking over for the two matches against Cape Verde with Vision 2022 strapped firmly to his back and Jordaan cracking the whip.

For that reason alone, we must pray for Mashaba’s success. A win over a Les Lions de la Teranga squad featuring just one local player plus the likes of Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Lazio’s Diao Balde Keith - not to mention Stoke City’s recalled Mame Biram Diouf - will change everything for Mashaba.

With just one competitive win (over minnows Gambia) in 10 Afcon games since the 2-2 draw with Nigeria at the end of 2014, it’s a tall order. Mashaba can point to the early World Cup qualifying wins over Angola back in November 2015 as a hopeful sign, and a current unbeaten run of 13 games including friendlies and COSAFA clashes since the unexpected 3-1 defeat in Mauritania.

But Senegal's lions are not pussy cats. Already ahead of Algeria (35), only Afcon champions Ivory Coast (31) are above them (32) on the FIFA rankings, in 2012 they were languishing in 77th spot.

Mashaba has allowed South Africa to slip to 62nd on the rankings - our average since 1992 is 51st  — and the 12th best team in Africa can hardly expect to join the top five for the trip to Russia.

Mashaba says: "I think we have a team to stop Senegal. If you look at the players who played against Burkina Faso, their commitment was very high.”

But then in June, when the World Cup draw was made, he famously said: ““We could not have asked for a kinder draw. I am happy, but that does not mean it is going to be easy.”

The dry words of Vision 2022 do not allow for such self-delusion. They call for development, focus and discipline. The head-stroking, flashy-dressing Mashaba knows: it’s win or bust next week.

Though it looks a long shot, we can only pray for success on Saturday.