Under-23 coach says the tournament is the perfect platform to blood young players and prepare them to play for Bafana
When CAF conceptualised the idea of establishing a second-tier continental national team competition a decade ago, it didn’t anticipate that the African Nations Championship (Chan) would become a bugbear for some of the football federations in the long run.
The brainchild of former CAF president Issa Hayatou, the first Chan was staged in 2009. Its sole intention was to afford players who ply their trade across the African leagues a chance to experience international football.
But the Chan – held every even year and alternating with the Afcon – seems to create problems for national team coaches and their counterparts at club level when it comes to the selection of players.
A case in point is how the coaches in South Africa have continuously encountered problems, dating back to Simon Ngomane, who was the first man in charge in the competition in 2011.
Gordon Igesund experienced the same predicament when South Africa hosted the tournament in 2014.
David Notoane is the latest tactician to encounter the messy reality of heading a Chan project. His problems are exacerbated by the reluctance by some of the local professional clubs to release their players for national duty.
“In terms of the calendar, yes Chan can be better coordinated,” Notoane told City Press ahead of South Africa’s qualifying return leg against Lesotho at Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto this afternoon.
Chan is played outside the Fifa calendar and therefore clubs are not obliged to release players.
“Now the space we are currently in, coming out of the Afcon in Egypt, makes the situation even more difficult,” said Notoane, who is also the national Under-23 coach.
“It’s a very difficult situation because, when you go to any tournament where Bafana is playing, the nation expects a positive result and a positive performance, irrespective of where the team is – that’s the reality.”
However, the coach said he had made the best out of a difficult situation, guiding a makeshift Bafana Bafana side that comprises mostly players from the lower divisions – the third-tier ABC Motsepe League, with the majority picked from the NFD clubs – in a bid to qualify for the Chan finals in Cameroon next year.
Bafana go into this afternoon’s match trailing Lesotho 3-2 from the first leg, which was played in Maseru last weekend.
“We looked at the database again,” said Notoane, who had been tasked, alongside his assistant Kwanele Kopo, with steering the project.
To avert further crises, Notoane has called up Reneilwe “Yeye” Letsholonyane (37), the veteran midfielder who is clubless after he parted ways with SuperSport United at the end of last season.
“We can’t take experience from someone like Yeye and throw it in the dustbin. If there is an opportunity to say he’s a guy who can inspire the young ones, then why not go for it?” added Notoane.
South Africa’s Chan squad warms up during the team’s training session in Soweto this week . Picture: Lucky Nxumalo
“We have to stay with the process with Chan to give young players an opportunity to taste senior international football.
“We are using this platform [Chan] as well as the Cosafa Cup to give them that opportunity to break through.
“I’m not saying let’s justify losing by saying we have young players, but sometimes that’s the reality. We have to take the knocks to ensure that, come the 2022 World Cup, some of these boys will have amassed enough international caps at a senior level.”
Notoane noted that positive results and the rankings were equally important, so his squad also had to shoulder the responsibility of turning around the result against Lesotho today.
He also sees a bigger picture in Chan – that a run in this less-fancied tournament will help his Under-23 side in their bid to reach the Under-23 Afcon in Egypt in November, which serves as the qualifier for the 2020 Olympics.