Sunday, 28 August 2016

SOLVED: THE SOWETO GIANT-KILLINGS... why Pirates and Chiefs will go no further in the MTN8

OvoNO! Two assists for Pirates goalkeeper
FROM a poorly attended mid-week start to the PSL to the fascinating MTN8... and straight to an international break. Not the best way to start the South African football season but hey, it's been absorbing.

Unless you support Orlando Pirates or Kaizer Chiefs.

In a season barely two games old, the demise of BOTH Soweto Giants in the lucrative MTN8 competition should come as an earth-shaking upset to long-suffering local football watchers.

Sadly, as I have been saying for some time, it’s not much of a surprise. Kaizer Chiefs, though dominant in possession, failed 1-0 against three-month-old Cape Town City while Orlando Pirates were beaten 2-1 by Bidvest Wits despite an early penalty.

In truth, the AmaKhosi and the Buccaneers should be sneering at these small clubs with tiny support bases. Both Soweto clubs still enjoy the R1bn 5-year joint-sponsorship from Vodacom - not to mention the benefits of the Carling Black Label Cup and numerous other sponsors.

But the Khoza-Motaung alliance, now forged in marriage of daughter and son as well as self-serving sponsorship, has failed to bring the expected advantages of monopoly. One glance at the MTN8 semi-final draw shows Sundowns against Chippa United and Wits against Cape Town City over two legs. Shocking.

In theory, Pirates and Chiefs both enjoy huge support, drawing the majority of fans in every city in South Africa, no matter the opposition. Lately those crowds have collapsed, but even with gate income at an all-time low, they should be in massive profit.

Yet still here we are, with both clubs, who finished a disappointing 5th and 7th in the PSL last season, out of the MTN8 at the first hurdle.

For me, the reasons are clear and have been highlighted here repeatedly. Bobby Motaung, the Chiefs “General Manager” refuses to spend his millions on transfer fees, preferring to sniff out free signings and cheap deals with agent Tim Sukazi.

Not much has been said about the way Sukazi’s clients now dominate the Chiefs technical bench too. A few weeks ago, boss Steve Komphela - who said after Friday’s night’s defeat “pressure is a pleasure” - hinted that the public execution of 20 Chiefs players in June and the arrival of 8 cheap replacements and a couple of youth squad members was not exactly how he planned to start his second season at Naturena.

And at Pirates, where three top youngsters were sent to the excellent Dance Malesela's Chippa and a trio of Free State Stars were drafted in during the Panyaza Lesufi/Moroka Swallows fiasco, Muhsin Etrugral (swapped with Eric Tinkler when Mpumalanga Black Aces were deleted) is little better off.

To his credit Etrugral took the blame for Saturday night’s humiliation against Gavin Hunt’s tougher, harder, better Clever Boys. Twice. He said he was at fault for the way the Buccaneers went “backwards, backwards” and he scapegoated himself for the absence of Brighton Mhlongo in goal.

And this is where we come to the real problem. While neither Chiefs nor Pirates appear to have spent much for three transfer windows - R3m for Ghana’s Bernard Morrison from AS Vita appears to be the only fee paid - it’s not just a lack of talent which keeps Soweto’s football in the second class compartment.

What I don’t understand in this: WHY does Komphela, so intelligent, so articulate, continue to start Bernard Parker when clearly the man is a spent force? And WHY did Etrugral take Felipe Ovono, a rare home-born Equatorial Guinea international, off the transfer list and shove him in to the first team?

Parker, as I said repeatedly on twitter, had no impact in Cape Town. He was whisked off at half-time to general acclaim from the on-line AmaKhosi. Ovono was trending on the social networks for inadvertently assisting in both Wits goals.

My question is this: who selects the teams in Soweto? Previous regimes at both clubs claim to have their team list changed in the dressing-room minutes before the game. Both those coaches are now gone. You'd assume with Tebza Moloi and Doc Khumalo now OUT of the dressing room, all this would come to a halt.

But here were are, a week in to the new season, and the bizarre selections - once termed “sinister forces” by the now-dumped Pirate Lucky Lekgwathi - are still with us. Mind-blowingly silly decisions by two coaches under HUGE pressure to perform.

Etrugral clearly knows he has to toe the line in his early days at Parktown. But for Komphela, with one dodgy win over relegated AmaTuks since February, must surely rely on his own instincts at this point.

Or tell us EXACTLY who things work at Kaizer Chiefs before it’s too late.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Forget the tracksuits, count the medals: South Africa celebrate Rio revival

When your president rouses himself on a Sunday to congratulate a South African sports team, you know you've done okay.

As in all sports, you can only judge a team by its results. And on that basis, South Africa’s Olympians at Rio 2016 have to be given a massive pat on the back. Even Jacob Zuma said they were "outstanding" on Sunday morning as the sporting carnival drew to a close.

Sure, we can pick out the weaknesses. The bizarre retro tracksuits, those who finished out of the top 50 in their events, the lack of ANY relay teams and the non-travelling hockey teams.

But history will reflect South Africa’s most successful Olympics since re-introduction in 1992. The target of 10 medals was met. And two glittering gold medals will return to these shores.

The golden moment of a fascinating week of athletics has to go to Wayde van Niekerk. He shattered Michael Johnson’s apparently indomitable world record over 400m and is now a household name around the globe.

Caster Semenya, tweeting bizarre pre-race assertions on a now-verified twitter account, did EXACTLY what she promised, winning the women’s 800m by an even greater margin than Wayde.

Shrugging off the approaching storm, Semenya said: "It's just fantastic. Thanks to team, my physios, my coach, my training partners, my wife and my family. Great job. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be here today."

The question is: will Caster's gold lead to a long-lasting change in attitudes to same-sex marriage among the traditionally conservative sporting fraternity? Let's hope so.

There's more, much more. Henri Schoeman’s surprise bronze in the triathlon - he finished just ahead of compatriot and medal favourite Richard Murray in fourth - was a major boost, Chad Le Clos became our most decorated Olympian by adding two further silvers in the pool, and Sunette Viljoen speared silver too with her opening throw.

Once more, South Africa emerges as an African Olympian giant, second only to Kenya’s middle-distance kings in the medals table. Nigeria, with a population five times ours, only managed a single medal, bronze in the football.

Yes, there were controversies. But the greatest of those were unifying tales, great stories that drew the nation together.

Luvo Manyango’s dramatic silver medal in the long-jump came despite drug addiction and a doping ban. Viljoen’s javelin tore through the heart when we read how her brother struck her twice when she came out as a homosexual.

And of course, Caster - ironically attempting to usurp the androgynous Jarmila Kratochvilova’s 1983 world record - sailed through the storm over her gender with aplomb. Soon, given a pace-maker, will we see her become the fastest woman ever over two laps.

We can talk of medals and success - Sports Minister Mbalula Fikile will make sure of that - despite a feeling in the gut that many of our athletes succeeded DESPITE the efforts of SASCOC not BECAUSE of the Tubby Reddy brigade.

But I’ll celebrate the 2016 Olympics in Rio because it brought the nation together. Some tried to talk about race, others gave up after both South African teams went out early in the football tournament.

For the TRUTH about 2016, you had to be on the social networks in the early hours of Sunday morning as Caster prepared to deliver the gold I guaranteed all week on eTV Sunrise.

The Rainbow Nation stayed awake, as many had for a fortnight of Brazilian brilliance. And we celebrated together as one when Mokgadi made a mockery of an 800m field shorn of Russians.

And who knows, when the dust settles, the woman that beat her in to the silver medal position at London 2012, Mariya Savinova, may  yet be deprived of her ill-gotten gold. And we’ll discover that “our Caster” did what Mo Farah and Usain Bolt did: defended her title.

But for now, let’s celebrate. With Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin on the way out, Wayde van Niekerk, Anasa Jobodwzne and Akani Simbine could be set for years of sprinting success for South Africa.

Building on success has never been a great South African sporting trait. This time, the opportunity should not be missed.

Monday, 8 August 2016

FOUR GAMES AT RIO, AND NOT A GOAL IN SIGHT: tales of the expected from our boys and girls

THE REDEEMER: Itumeleng Khune was magnificent
against Brazil in Rio but could not deny Denmark
IN summary: 360 minutes. Plenty of chances. NO GOALS.

Every South African footballer lover feared it would come to this. Four games played by our men’s and women’s teams at the Rio Olympics and still no scorers.

For Banyana Banyana, it comes as no great surprise. With no age restrictions on players, Vera Pauw’s team knew they were on a hiding to nothing, even after the hopeful 1-0 friendly defeat against the world’s No1 ranked women’s side, the USA.

The girls opened with a gritty display against Sweden, ranked 5th in the world. They showed little ambition but it took the classy Swedes an hour to conjure the only goal.

Against China, two or three early chances were missed and they went 1-0 down just before half-time before a long-range effort somehow squirmed past Roxanne Barker to give the world’s most populous nation a 2-0 win.

Next up? Brazil. Goodbye girls.

Owen da Gama’s men, in a competition which allows three over-age players in each U23 squad, can’t really look to world rankings given the format.

But no matter how you look at it, the opening 0-0 draw against hosts Brazil and their Barcelona superstar Neymar was impressive. Again, South Africa knew their limits. But until Mothobi Mvala’s naive red card, it could have gone either way.

Itumeleng Khune, the Bafana Bafana captain and Kaizer Chiefs No1, made three stunning saves, two of them from Neymar, to secure a vital point and hopes were high.

Game two against Denmark, who also drew their opener against Iraq 0-0, started with great optimism. Lebogang Mothiba (who should have done better) and Keagan Dolly (from range) both hit the cross-bar and for long periods, South Africa outplayed their European rivals.

There were saves at both ends, Itumeleng Khune somehow kept one out with his head and Jeppe Holberg made a series of blocks.

But in the 69th minute it was the Danish substitutes, Jacon Bruun Larsen and Robert Skov who confounded South Africa with Skov scoring the first goal in Group A as Tower Mathoho scurried across just too late to stop a devastating concession.

There had been a lot of talk from Da Gama, Dolly and Khune about “not making up the numbers” but in truth South Africa only qualified as third place finishers in Senegal on the back of Jody February’s penalty shoot-out heroics. Perhaps we were too optimistic.

Though not out-played by Brazil or Denmark, South Africa can take a lesson from our northern rivals. Nigeria managed to arrive in Brazil on the day of their opening game but still beat Japan 5-4 and then Sweden 1-0 to qualify for the quarter-finals with something to spare.

South Africa’s chances now look slim. With head-to-head the deciding factor, even a win over Iraq might not be enough in the men’s tournament, which features 16 nations and offers only the top two a route to the knock-out stages.

And Banyana Banyana, in a women’s gathering of 12 teams, cannot even make use of the two best third places on offer.

Still, Thursday night will provide another opportunity for South Africans to bite their nails and pull out their hair. A win over Iraq is imperative. And scoring is no longer an option.

Monday, 1 August 2016

AN EXPERIMENT: a poem on the eve of South Africa's local government elections

Vote of Africa: Baring the Cross

There’s a broken boy
Lives on our street
Paints his face
Will dance for a sweet

His sign says “Thomas”
Got hit by a truck
Go to Steve Biko
Pretend to give a fuck

In the land of the Boers
They call it John Vorster
And they blame his mum
Say: Nobody forced her

He’s lucky of course
There’s money round here
They throw him a Spur
An occasional beer

I say to the kids
Give him a wave
And Tom dances on
To an early grave

It’s voting day
X marks the spot
But not for Tom
He’s a have-not

There is an ideal world
Where Tom is a trooper
In an army of voters
Making life super

The EFF will give him land
The ANC may find a grand
And take it back
With the other hand

Sorry dancing boy
Your life ain’t fair
Your invisible legions

Are too much to share