This has been a year to forget for Bafana Bafana.
When top nations were playing at the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon earlier this year, Bafana players were twiddling their thumbs at home.
Not only that, they will be doing the same when 2018 Fifa World Cup takes place in Russia in June.
From missing the Afcon finals to missing the world football spectacle – 2017 will go down as one of the worst in Bafana’s history.
After the team changed hands from Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba to Stuart Baxter a lot was expected but little – or none – was achieved.
The year started with news of Mashaba’s firing following his rant after Bafana’s World Cup match against Senegal last November.
But his appeal case dragged on for a while until the two parties reached an amicable settlement in June to end a long-running arbitration hearing.
By then Baxter had already been appointed as Mashaba’s successor and the former SuperSport United coach started on a high note when he defeated Nigeria in the opening round of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations away in Uyo.
Bafana’s first victory over the Super Eagles in an official game was seen as the start of a new era.
But then the wheels came off when Bafana succumbed to a back-to-back defeat to minnows Cape Verde in the World Cup qualifiers in September and faced the impossible task of qualifying.
In between the Afcon qualifier and the World Cup qualifiers, Bafana failed to defend their Cosafa Cup in home soil. They also failed to book a place at the finals of the CAF African Nations Championships after going down to Zambia.
But it was the two defeats to the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde that dented their hopes of going to Russia next year.
As if that was not enough, Fifa ordered a replay World Cup qualifier between South Africa and Senegal and the original result from last November’s match in Polokwane was declared void. This was after referee Joseph Lamptey was found guilty of match manipulation.
The Ghanaian match official allegedly made decisions during the game on behalf of betting syndicates in Hong Kong and Singapore‚ awarding a dubious penalty and a disputed goal in the 2-1 win for Bafana at the Peter Mokaba Stadium.
Stripping South Africa of the three points took Bafana to the bottom of the standings and they had to win their remaining three qualifiers – against Burkina Faso and two against Senegal – if they were to have any chance of advancing to the 2018 World Cup finals.
As usual, Bafana raised the nation’s hopes when they thrashed the Stallions of Burkina Faso 3-1 in October.
But those hopes came crashing down when they lost 2-0 to Senegal at the same Polokwane venue they had beaten them last year. Their slim hopes of going to Russia ended there.
They were again on the losing side when they travelled to Dakar for the final qualifier and ended the group last on the standings.
Next year’s World Cup will be the third one Bafana have failed to qualify for since 2002 in South Korea and Japan. They did not go to Germany in 2006 and were not in Brazil three years ago, and are not going to Russia. The only time they participated was as hosts in 2010.
Their failure to book a place in the finals once again raised questions about the country’s seriousness on development and whether there were good enough players to take the country to the top.
Bafana have since dropped seven places to the 81st in the latest Fifa world rankings after a disappointing 2018 Football World Cup qualifying campaign which saw them drop to their lowest ranking since 2012.
They started the year at 60th spot and dropped 21 places to 81 when the year ended.
Bafana are now ranked as the 18th best team in Africa.