Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Buffoon-a Buffoon-a finally accept their fate

Just over 10 days after the debacle at the Mbombela Stadium, the South Africa Football Association (Safa) has finally done the decent thing. The withdrawal of their appeal against CAF's criteria for judging who finished top of the group in qualifying for next year's African Nations Cup in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea brings to an end a saga that must go down as one of the most embarrassing in world football history.

The threat to appeal against what effectively amounted to a blatant misreading of the rulebook turned Bafana Bafana into a laughing stock. The sight of Siphiwe Tshabalala and co dancing around the pitch after the fateful 0-0 draw with Sierra Leone as Safa President Kirsten Nematandani went on TV to congratulate them was bad enough.

But kicking up a fuss afterwards just made things worse. The letter sent by Safa's top brass at CAF really had to be seen to believed, particularly the jumbled phrase at the end that read: "This is the first time that three teams end equal on points and the two interpretations (ie Safa's inability to realise what the word 'between' meant) lead to a different ranking and hence it is the first time the rule is identified as unfair because in this instance, the team that performed the best got eliminated."

Eh? Try reading that sentence again and making sense of it. I certainly couldn't. So it's no wonder they decided to drop the appeal if the best excuse anyone could come up with was that "the team who performed the best got eliminated". CAF's officials must have had a good old chuckle to themselves when that letter dropped on the mat at their headquarters in Cairo.

Joking aside, however, this is no laughing matter for South African football. A second successive absence from the African Nations Cup is unexcusable for a country with all the resources there are available and the nation's top players now face a gap of nine months before their next competitive match in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

A two-month domestic break scheduled to coincide with January's Afcon in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea will now potentially be filled with a hastily arranged mini-tournament, although don't hold your breath. But at least now Safa can go some way to remedying their mistake by allowing Shakes Mashaba's under 23 side to use PSL players to help book a place at next year's London Olympics.

As in any walk of life, though, there has to be someone to pay for this astronomic blunder. Safa President Kirsten Nematandani has promised that heads will roll but it remains to be seen exactly who will get the chop.

Coach Pitso Mosimane has been absolved of all blame so far but surely it is the coach's duty to know exactly all the permutations? You can't exactly imagine Sir Alex Ferguson telling his side to play for a draw at Old Trafford on the last day of the season, even if the league title was already in the bag.

But there's no doubt Mosimane has helped Bafana to progress since taking over last year and to sack him would probably do no one any favours. Instead, perhaps Safa should look a little closer to home and try to make sure this never happens again (incredibly there was a similar case in 2007).

The first place to start would be to put Danny Jordaan back in charge. He managed to bring the World Cup to Africa for the first time so reading a few rules shouldn't be too much of a challenge. 


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