Sunday, 26 June 2016

REMEMBER WHAT NAPOLEON SAID ABOUT THE ROAD TO RUSSIA: From COSAFA to Rio Olympics... to the World Cup qualifiers

PENALTY KING: Gift Motupa scored twice from the spot
ARISE Sir Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba. You lifted the COSAFA Castle Cup in Namibia with a young, untested Bafana Bafana squad. Nobody can EVER take that great night away from you.

But remember the words of another famous man who reached Russia with a squad of 600,000. Napoleon Bonaparte, who got to Moscow but paid the price, said: “To be defeated is pardonable. To be surprised? NEVER!”

Though it to
ok penalties to defeat quarter-finalists Lesotho, ranked 155 in the world, the emphatic 5-1 semi-final win over Swaziland, ranked 117, was emphatic. And the gritty 3-2 win in the final at the Sam Nujoma Stadium was more entertaining than anything Euro 2016 could manage on Saturday.

We can safely ignore the bleating of Botswana’s coach Peter Butler, who said after his side had conceded two penalties and a goal that looked off-side: "This tournament will never gain any credibility when we have disgusting, atrocious, shameful refereeing.”

Butler conveniently forgot to mention the gift Reyaad Pieterse handed his side for their second goal, allowing an innocuous cross to slip through his gloves. And the first penalty was a clear-cut foul.

Though Butler, who played 70 games for West Ham in the early 90s, claimed Botswana “were the better side” and the refereeing was unquestionably poor, Bafana deserved their first taste of silverware since they last won the COSAFA Cup in 2008.

Mashaba was far calmer afterwards as his young squad danced with joy in Windhoek: “Well done to Botswana, they played very well, but we expected this.

“Since COSAFA started for us, we always came from behind and that shows the character is there.”

After a brief questioning of how COSAFA can actually improve football in South Africa, Mashaba should now shift his attention to the World Cup qualifiers, instead it appears he will now focus on the Rio Olympics with these youngsters, who fly straight out for a friendly in Japan with a week off before travelling to Brazil.

Rio will give South Africa some idea of where we REALLY stand in world football after a torrid two years under Mashaba’s leadership. Whether he will recall some of the heroes of Senegal or stick with the COSAFA squad remains unclear. Obviously Keagan Dolly will be roped in, but names like Norodien, Farmer and Lakay have quietly faded.

On their return, the U23s may or may not form the spine of the new Bafana side who face a tough task qualifying from Group D of the African World Cup qualifiers.

Worryingly, many in the South Africa media described Friday’s draw in Cairo as “easy”, but it’s not. In terms of world rankings alone, we are stuck in the 3rd toughest group of five. And only the group winners go to Russia.

Mashaba must accept vast improvement is needed. Having failed to qualify from Group M for AFCON 2017 in Gabon, Group D presents more serious problems.

The AFCON group WAS easy. Look at the world rankings. Cameroon 58, Mauritania 121 and Gambia 165. Compare that to the World Cup group: Senegal 41, Cape Verde 49 and Burkina Faso 73.

And we couldn't even manage a best runners-up spot for Gabon next year.

It appears Mashaba has coasted through his AFCON qualifying failure with a little help from the COSAFA success. We go in to the World Cup with a coach many are questioning and SAFA, with their President involved in the PE Mayoral race and Technical Director analysing Euro 2016 on TV, apparently unconcerned by what has gone before.

Mashaba himself says: "We could not have asked for a kinder draw. I'm happy but that does not mean it is going to be easy.

"There is no second best at this stage, only top teams in the group will be at the World Cup. We should be among them.”

But clearly he hasn’t noticed how many top level stars now play for Senegal, or how Cape Verde have gone to great lengths to attract players to strengthen their national squad. And Burkina Faso, the only side ranked lower than South Africa’s 68, are no pushovers either.

It’s not a matter of “we should make it”, Bafana Bafana under Mashaba remain minnows in the continental pool. If he gets our boys to Russia, Mashaba will confound the experts, tear up the form book. If only he realised that. Just look what happened to Napoleon after Moscow.


Below are the 21 names who have been in talks with Bobby Motaung since he discarded 20 players on the club web-site on May 31.

I believe the first 11 are CONFIRMED for 11am tomorrow when Football Manager Motaung announces his names, with the two youngsters taking the count to 13.

TWO of the additional players requiring fees may be unveiled, Anthony Laffor is close to moving from Mamelodi Sundowns. Apparently Motaung is hoping the stated fees for the remaining players will fall closer to the start of the season. 

The big overseas names like Steven Pienaar, released by Everton, and Tokelo Rantie, unwanted at Bournemouth last season, are not among them, though May Mahlangu and Anele Ncongca are "nearly affordable".

Bobby is keen on naming 20 players - equal to the number of unwanted - but will ultimately hand over a far more economical squad to Steve Komphela for the new season.

1 Keagan Buchanan, 25, Bloemfontein Celtic (free) Midfield
2 Sbu Khumalo, 26, SuperSport United (swap with Keagan Ritchie) Defender
3 Ramahlwe Mphahlele, 26, Mamelodi Sundowns (free, signed pre-contract) Defender
4 Mitchell Katsairo, 26, Chicken Inn (R3m deal) Striker
5 Edmore Chirambadare, 24, Chicken Inn (R750,000 deal) Striker
6 Lebohang Mokoena, 29, Mamelodi Sundowns (free, released) Striker/wing
7 Kudakwashe Mahachi, 22, Golden Arrows/Mamelodi Sundowns (free) Midfielder
8 Evans Rusike, 25, Maritzburg United (possible fee) Striker
9 Joseph Molangoane, 28, Chippa United (free) Midfielder
10 Ennocent Mkhabula, 27, SuperSport United (released, free) Midfielder
11 Siphelele Ntshangase, 23, Black Leopards (disputed) Mid/striker

1 Emmanuel Letlotlo, 18, Asidlali (new contract, promoted) Striker
2 Aviwe Nyamende, 23, Shumba Academy (new contract) Defender

1 Thamsanqa Sangweni, 27, Golden Arrows (R4m) Midfielder
2 Sibusiso Vilakazi, 26, Bidvest Wits (R12m) Midfielder
3 Justice Chabalala, ??, Free State Stars (R5m)
4 Thapelo Morena, 22, Bloem Celtic (R6m)
5 Prince Nxumalo, Ajax Cape Town (R4m) Striker
6 Anthony Laffor, Mamelodi Sundowns (R4m) Striker
7 Charlton Mashumba, Jomo Cosmos (R3m) Striker
8 Bantu Mzwakali, 22, Ajax Cape Town (R6m) Midfielder

Sunday, 19 June 2016

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER: how Pitso's Mamelodi Sundowns confounded the continent

MIRACLE IN ALGERIA: Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane
Today I come to praise Pitso Mosimane. As one of those football addicts who stayed up way beyond midnight last Saturday night, it was a memorable 90 minutes on the Mamelodi Sundowns roller-coaster. Did I say memorable? Make that  bloody miraculous!

After a long day which featured come-from-behind wins for Bafana Bafana (on penalties over Lesotho in the COSAFA quarter-finals), a missed penalty for Cristiano Ronaldo (in another fascinating failure for Portugal) and a first win for Allister Coetzee’s Springboks, it was entirely unexpected.

We burned the midnight oil expecting to see another brave failure in Africa from our PSL champions. When they got to 20 minutes at 0-0, I tweeted that the match situation was already better than expected.

Truth is, our KaboYellow title winners went to Algeria with little to hope against their 2015 champions ES Setif. To list the problems for South Africa’s leading club in full would require several pages, but let’s just say their preparations weren’t ideal, they didn't expect to be in Africa, contracts need settling, new blood has yet to arrive.

In goal, Wayne Sandilands found himself thrust in front of a packed May 18th 1945 Stadium (read more about that name at the foot of this story) as a late stand-in for PSL goalkeeper of the year Dennis Onyango of Uganda and Kennedy Mweene of Zambia.

In midfield, with Bongani Zungu off to Portugal, Tiyani Mabunda need a last-minute visa application to get him out of the country for his continental debut. A word too for Leonardo Castro, who opted to return from Colombia to help out despite the imminent end of his one-year deal in Tshwane.

Whispers told us central defender Ramahlwe Mphahlele was left at home chewing over a move to Kaizer Chiefs, striker Anthony Laffour had “disciplinary problems” and it felt like Pitso Mosimane's usually impeccable preparation was in disarray.

With Ramadan to consider, the game didn’t start until after 11pm, no South African club has ever kicked off so late. And of course, no club has EVER played in the African Champions League group phase after being knocked out of both continental tournaments - only the disqualification of AS Vita Club had landed them back in Africa’s most important cup competition.

And Sundowns previous trips to North Africa hardly instilled confidence. Remember 0-4 against Tunisia’s CF Faxien, 0-3 against Egypt’s Al Ahli, 2-4 to Sudan’s Al Hilal?

They trotted out in Setif, memorable only for football and a massacre (105 were shot dead by French police on May 8, 1945) with a record of six defeats and two draws in their previous eight games north of the equator.

What was it Pitso said a few weeks ago about travelling north? "You see how it is. It's a jungle."

Under pressure from the first whistle to the last, we witnessed a 90 minute miracle. An away win to start a qualifying process Sundowns should never have been involved in.

First the long-suffering Mabunda silenced the rowdy crowd with a stunning first half goal against the run of play. Then, playing on the transition, the tireless Keagan Dolly - hero of Bafana’s only AFCON 2017 win against Gambia - finally threaded a ball through to PSL player of the season Khama Billiat.

The priceless Zimbabwean wove his magical thread through the Algerian defence and stuck it away. At 2-0, an unthinkable victory was confirmed. Setif had barely forced a save out of the impeccable Sandilands.

And then, in injury-time, a roar from the outraged fans, loud bangs from thrown fireworks and a full-scale pitch invasion. Chaos as Sundowns sought shelter by the bench. Fearful Setif players stayed on the pitch, looking on with some trepidation but trying to re-assure the opposition of safe passage from the stadium.

Footage of the trouble HERE:

Though our SuperSport and SABC commentators were doing their best from studios in Johannesburg, we were not granted visuals of the missiles thrown, the security guards trying to keep control.

Referee Mahamadou Keita from Mali, who did Sundowns few favours on an historic night, tried to get the match restarted but in the end, the final whistle went amid the chaos.

Much will be said, hopefully by SAFA to CAF, about a night of high drama and crowd chaos which, like the trouble at Euro2016, must be punished.

But this week, let’s just bask in the glory of South Africa’s finest Champions League performance in years. With Nigerians Enyimba at home on June 29. Pitso and Sundowns can finally give the nation something to shout about.

To read about the horrific events of May 8, 1945 in Setif:

Sunday, 5 June 2016

WELL HELLO DOLLY: after years of waiting, South Africa finally gets a glimpse of Keagan's genius

DOLLIGHTFUL: Keagan Dolly after his 1st goal in Gambia
I said hello, Dolly, 
Well, hello, Dolly
 It's so nice to have you back
where you belong
You're lookin' swell, Dolly
I can tell, Dolly
You're still glowin'
You're still crowin'
You're still goin' strong

Those are the lyrics of one Louis Armstrong, in a hit single which swept around the world in 1964 after the launch of “Hello Dolly”, the musical of the same name.

I was three at the time but here we are, 52 years later and Keagan Dolly, aged 23, has finally become a hit with South Africa’s national football team.

Dolly, from the same Westbury suburb west of Johannesburg as Everton’s Steven Pienaar, should have been a Bafana Bafana veteran with 30+ caps by now.

But years of non-selection by the agent-manipulated national head coach Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba meant that his two assists and two fantastic strikes in Gambia on Saturday marked just his SECOND international appearance.

Dolly, who moved from Ajax Cape Town to Mamelodi Sundowns for R7m in 2014, was actually given a debut that year during 3-0 win over Sudan in Omdurman.

Since then, Mashaba has used various excuses to keep South Africa’s finest young player out of the senior squad, ranging from youth, lack of fitness, being on loan at his former club Ajax Cape Town, and - infamously - refusing to pick Keagz for the AFCON 2017 clashes against Cameroon this year “because he is involved in the U23 friendly in Brazil”.

While Rivaldo Coetzee, three years younger, was consistently selected despite obvious failings, Dolly was persistently ignored despite his progress in the PSL with Pitso's Masandawana.

That glaring omission came back to haunt Shaky on Saturday. Dolly, rampaging down the left, made two goals for low-scoring Orlando Pirates striker Thami Gabuza before thumping home two of his own from outside the box. Imagine, we asked, if Dolly had played in all the Group M qualifiers? Would that left foot have been the difference against Cameroon?

It was Dolly’s day. So much so that it’s hard to imagine him returning to PSL champions Mamelodi Sundowns after the Rio Olympics, he is surely bound for a European apprenticeship in September.

CHAMPION: Keagan Dolly in action for Sundowns
Amid the bizarre suggestions that this was some stroke of Mashaba genius or that we had suddenly found a superhero, the more enlightened Bafana fans recognised the record 4-0 away win in Bakau for what it was: too little, too late for our boys.

Dolly himself said: "There’s more to come, watch this space!

“This has been some year for me. I have won lots of things, selected for major awards and now being called for the national team and do this.

“It gives me a wonderful feeling but I want to continue working hard so that I repay the faith my coaches have placed on me.

“The coach told me to shoot when I am within range and I did exactly that in the second half and the rest as they say, is history.

“With the team leading 2-0 and cruising, I told myself ‘give it a go’ and boy I have never felt so good.

“My career is really blossoming but will continue to work hard, keep my feet grounded and put more effort in whatever I do.”

The sky appears to be the limit now for Dolly as Sundowns head in to the group stages of the African Champions League by default and Bafana prepare for COSAFA and the Olympics.

But soon the World Cup draw will outline the way ahead for South African football, where Dolly will become the central figure in Bafana’s plans.

It matters not who leads the nation in to those qualifiers, Dolly - and other youngsters ignored despite Danny Jordaan’s now-forgotten Vision 2022 plans - are the future for South Africa football. The nation will insist on a youthful future after Dolly’s heroics, no matter who leads the team.

Though a national coach who picks on form, youth and is capable of understanding modern football would be a major advantage in what promises to be a turbulent road to Russia in 2018.