Bafana must follow Bucs’ lead
On Sunday, Pirates became the first South African side to reach the Caf Champions League group stages since 2006. Considering their indifferent league form of late and the adversity they overcame in Lubumbashi, it was certainly no mean feat.
Pirates’ players compared the game to war and in turn went out and fought for their country. Their efforts deserve to be applauded. As a nation, I believe that we should all unite and support our teams travelling into Africa. In these instances, national pride should override club rivalries.
I may have captained Chiefs from 1992 to 1999 but I will always give credit where it’s due. I believe triumphs like these bring the country closer together. The 1996 Africa Cup of Nations-winning squad certainly fed off Pirates’ Champions League success in 1995.
When the current Pirates team headed to the Democratic Republic of Congo with a 3-1 aggregate lead, most of us had a reasonable idea of what was in store for the Sea Robbers.
While some were taken aback by the drama that unfolded on-field and off, to be honest, I was not surprised by the level of intimidation the team endured.
While I wouldn’t necessarily have predicted a complete media blackout, the locals used their usual antagonistic ploys to unsettle the visiting team.
During my playing days with Chiefs, I remember us facing a similar situation in Rwanda. As we headed onto the pitch we noticed troops manning the outskirts of the field with AK-47s in hand.
The locals believed we would be thrown off our game by the mere sight of the militia. However, we used it as ammunition to fuel our fight and desire. Like Pirates, we kept our cool and were on a mission to achieve our objectives against all odds.
In 2013, one would have hoped the situation would have improved but in reality the level of intimidation in Africa is as bad as it’s ever been. Pirates’ unpleasant experience certainly won’t be the last.
It’s only natural that as South Africans we will feel the need to highlight this issue. However, I believe it’s a futile exercise as I see no action being taken.
It’s a fact that South Africa is not a universally-liked country within African football. Just take Danny Jordaan’s failed attempt to join Caf’s executive committee, as a prime example.
Sure Safa can write a letter complaining to Caf but will the situation then suddenly improve? Definitely not in my view. It’s a problem endemic to African football with Caf turning a blind eye to the issue. There is so much politics within the organisation that it becomes a maze to navigate.
Instead of wasting our time and energy in fighting what I believe is a losing battle, I would advise our players and coaches to learn from the experience and move forward.
Senzo Meyiwa, for example, who saved two penalties and passed the test with flying colours, will be a better player because of the experience. He is already playing with a great deal of confidence but that match would have further strengthened his mental resolve.
Pirates’ success in Africa can only be a positive for the national side and points the way for Bafana Bafana.
While Bafana are fortunate that they will now be playing the Central African Republic in Cameroon, they can expect similar treatment in Ethiopia to what Pirates encountered in Congo.
Gordon Igesund is a quality coach with four league titles to his name but the reality is that he lacks first-hand experience of journeying into Africa.
My advice to him would therefore be to prepare the team for the worst by simulating various scenarios in training. For example, as a coach you can prepare your team for a more than likely sending off by practising during the week with 10 men v 11 and nine men v 11.
Another trick is to arrive in the country as late as possible to prevent having to prepare on a dust bowl.
While a coach can do his best to control the controllables, it’s ultimately how the players respond to the volatile conditions on the day which proves most telling.
The reality is that you are going to be threatened by the locals, the crowd will be hostile and the conditions will be challenging.
It’s no use swimming against the tide. As a player, you have to show sufficient maturity and calm under pressure to rise above the provocation.