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October 09, 2009

Safa looks to sell Santana and South Africa down the river

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Photo courtesy Chris Kirchhoff

What precisely is the point? That is the question every football-loving South African must be asking themselves as the national football team, Bafana Bafana, head into this weekend’s international friendly against Norway.

On Tuesday, the day Bafana Bafana jetted off on a European jaunt which sees them take on Norway on Saturday and then Iceland next week, the South African Football Association (Safa) decided, in its wisdom, to appoint three of coach Joel Santana’s strongest critics (ex-South Africa coaches Clive Barker, Jomo Sono and Premier Soccer League-winning coach Gavin Hunt) to assess his performance over the next two matches.

With just a couple of months to go before the official World Cup final draw is made, Safa is apparently doing everything in its power to turn next year’s festival into a fiasco for the host nation.

The not so-invisible ink suggests that the writing is on the wall for the Brazilian-born coach should he fail to make an impression against his European counterparts during South Africa’s trip abroad.

Ignoring the (de)merits of the three judges in question, let’s examine the reasons behind what must, ceteris paribus, be the dumbest decision Safa has made in a long list of very worthy candidates for the dubious honour.

Since beating New Zealand to progress to the semifinals of the Confederations Cup, Bafana Bafana have managed just one win (against Madagascar) in seven games. On the face of it, it’s a compelling reason to send the sexagenarian back to the land of samba.

But there’s a reason that courts of law look for mitigating circumstances before donning the black cap and sending people back to the scantily clad beaches of South America’s sexiest country: it’s because mitigating circumstances are ... um ... circumstances that provide mitigating reasons for the supposed crime.

So let’s see if there are any mitigating circumstances for Santana.

Of the six games South Africa have lost, two have been to the European champions Spain in the Confederations Cup, once thanks to a bit of magic from David Silva following a bit of magic from Itumeleng Khune in the group stages of the Confederations Cup, while the other was in extra time after a thrilling 2-2 draw during full time in the third-fourth play-off of the Confederations Cup.

The other four have been against Brazil, a late winner from a wonderful free kick from Barcelona and Brazil wing back Dani Alves in the 88th minute to make it 1-0, a 3-1 thumping from Serbia at home, a boring 1-0 loss to Ireland away and then a 2-0 loss to perennial giants Germany away.

On that list of losses are maybe one, possibly two games we could hope to win: Serbia at home and Ireland away – and even then that’s a big, big maybe.

Serbia may not be giants of world football but their squad list still looks like a Uefa Champions League or Europa League list of clubs, while in our ranks, only Steven Pienaar is in any real danger of collecting silverware on that front. Furthermore, Serbia top the World Cup qualifying Group 7, four points clear of powerhouses France.

And while Ireland are unlikely to win the 2010 World Cup, they still boast a host of world-class internationals who play for top clubs in Europe and they’re second in Group 8, four points behind the 2006 World Champions, Italy who they face this weekend.

In short, South Africa have failed to conquer some of the best teams in the world and in some cases have not fallen far short.

However, if that doesn’t convince you, if the inherent performances of the side are what is making you tear your hair out, just remember that we’re on the eve of hosting the biggest tournament this country has ever seen. Every other team on the planet with a hope of qualifying has been working hard for years to make sure that they have the best possible shot of walking off with the trophy in our beautiful country. It’s also a tournament where no home side has failed to get through the first round of the competition. Firing our coach now means we’re setting ourselves up to make history in all the wrong ways.

One win in seven is a poor result, but I think the powers that be at Safa must have mistakenly drunk the liquid LSD instead of their morning orange juice to flirt with the idea of firing the national coach so soon before the World Cup.

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