Abafana baseMzansi – Part 5

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 2nd Aug 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Sports>Football (Soccer)

The fifth part of a series focusing on the history of the South African national football team with this installment focusing on their exploits in the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup.

Clash of Champions.

Despite the Mandela Cup defeat to Brazil, public perception of Bafana Bafana was pretty good as they managed to secure qualification to France ‘98 and not wanting to let up, the team was hoping to build on the positives with a good showing at the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup.

The tournament (formerly known as the King Fahd Cup) had undergone a revamp with it containing more participating teams from all the FIFA Confederations. Essentially, six nations who won their respective confederations international trophy along with the World Cup holders and the hosts of the tournament were placed in two groups of four where the top two teams of each group advanced to play one another in the semi-final and subsequent third – place playoff/final.

The 1996 Asia Cup winners and hosts of the ‘97 Confed Cup Saudi Arabia were placed in Group A alongside 1996 CONCACAF Gold Cup winners Mexico, 1996 Oceania Nations Cup winners Australia and the reigning world champions Brazil while Group B comprised of the Asia Cup runners-up U.A.E (who qualified by virtue of Saudi Arabia being the hosts and holders of the Asia Cup), the 1996 European Championship runners-up in the Czech Republic (champions Germany declined the invitation), the 1995 Copa America champions Uruguay and the AFCON holders being Bafana.

Preferring to maintain continuity, Coach Clive selected thirteen players who were involved with the AFCON win and World Cup qualifiers to make up the majority of the twenty man squad which in turn meant that the squad was one of the oldest with an average age of 27.

South Africa’s first game was to be against a lively Czech Republic side boasting talent such as Karel Poborsky, Vratislav Lokvenc, Vladimir Smicer and the exciting Pavel Nedved and without Eric Tinkler and captain Lucas Radebe (whose respective clubs released them late), it seemed as though the boys would be in for a long night. However, proving pre-match predictions wrong, the team came from behind twice to earn a 2-all draw.

Getting a draw with the Czech Republic who many considered favorites to win the group was a good start to the campaign and set the team up nicely for the opportunity to be in a qualifying position if they defeated the U.A.E who lost their opener but an early goal coupled with an impotency in front of goal saw South Africa suffer a 1-nil loss to their less fancied opponents.

What was previously an opportunity to qualify had now all but ended and any hope of making the semi-finals rested on Bafana beating the confirmed group winners Uruguay whilst hoping that the Czech Republic/U.A.E game ended in a draw (an idea that fans of the national team would have to get used to within the coming years).

Under the tutelage of Victor Pua, the youthful Uruguay side featuring players such as Paolo Montero, Pablo Garcia, Marcelo Zayaleta, Pablo Hernandez and Alvaro Recoba impressed many with their organised play so for Bafana, this wasn’t going to be easy especially seeing that they had to go all out, something which the Uruguayans were hoping to exploit.

Bafana took an early lead before Uruguay fired on all cylinders and netted three goals in succession. But as they seemingly always did when facing top opposition, Bafana fought back to tie the match until a late winner from Christian Callejas (along with the Czech Republic’s rout of the U.A.E) confirmed South Africa’s elimination from the tournament.

With the hindsight that is afforded to us, one has to think that winning AFCON ’96 did just as much harm as it did good. One can’t begin to detail how far it went to healing a nation in terms of the sociopolitical scene but at the same time, winning it immediately after a thirty year expulsion might’ve led us fans into entertaining unreasonably high expectations towards the national team.

SAFA seemingly held such expectations. Not in the team per say but more specifically in Clive Barker.

Looking at the timeline:
• A year before AFCON ’96, Bafana hold footballing giants Argentina and Germany to a draw
• South Africa wins AFCON ’96.
• South Africa loses the Mandela Cup in close fashion to world champions Brazil.
• Despite being the overwhelming favorites, South Africa barely qualifies for France ’98 (one point ahead of Zambia).
• South Africa twice squanders a golden opportunity to qualify for the semi – finals of the Confederations Cup (the U.A.E and Uruguay games).

If one was to look at the results, the evidence would suggest that despite the team playing well, they weren’t getting results and were in a decline.

SAFA certainly thought that Clive Barker had taken the team as far as he could and with the AFCON finals in Burkina Faso and France ‘98 just a couple of weeks and months away, were contemplating if it was time for change.

If you happened to miss any of the previous installments:


Football Soccer, History, Soccer, South Africa

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author avatar Memba Ben
A fan's view on the business of football.

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