JOHANNESBURG — While the murder of national soccer captain Senzo Meyiwa overshadowed events on the field, Bafana Bafana finished on a high after starting the year at rock bottom.
The new era for the country’s national soccer teams began with a scathing attack by the Sports minister, but ended on a high as three teams qualified for continental tournaments next year.
This switch in fortunes began when Bafana kicked off their 2014 African Nations Championship (Chan) campaign — hosted in South Africa — with a convincing 3-1 win over Mozambique in the tournament’s opening game, before following it up with a 1-1 draw with Mali.
However, this was as far as they got, following a heavy 1-3 defeat to Nigeria which condemned South Africa to a third place finish in the group.
The team failed to make it to the knockout stage and this prompted Minister Fikile Mbalula’s outburst – labelling Bafana Bafana “a bunch of losers” – at the team’s hotel the following day.
Mbalula changed his tune later in the year when the South African senior national team secured a place in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), hosted by Equatorial Guinea, in January.
Nevertheless, the after-effects of the Chan debacle were not over.
National coach at the time, Gordon Igesund, was dragged into a messy spat with the SA Football Association for allegedly asking his players to demand bigger bonuses.
Although later cleared by Safa, Bafana’s poor display in the Chan tournament ultimately sealed the coach’s fate and, in July, Safa declined to renew his contract.
Subsequently, former national coach Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba — who at the time was guiding the under-20 national side – was named Igesund’s successor.
Mashaba had already shone in 2014, grabbing headlines with his achievement with the under-20 national side (Amajita) — including steering them to African Youth Championships qualification.
This international showdown is set for Senegal in March where South Africa will need to reach the semifinals to qualify for the world cup in New Zealand later in year.
The Under-17 national team (Amajimbos) are also set for an exciting 2015, having qualified this year for the upcoming African Championships in Niger.
This achievement, under the guidance of coach Molefi Ntseki, ended a seven-year qualification drought for the continental event.
Meanwhile, only a month after taking up his new position, Mashaba’s first task with Bafana Bafana was to guide them in their 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualification campaign.
South Africa had already been dealt a tricky hand when, in April, Nigeria, Congo-Brazzaville and Sudan were drawn alongside them in group A of the Afcon qualification campaign.