The South African national football team’s disease of failing at major international tournaments continued to wreak havoc this week, with both the SA Under-23s and Banyana Banyana bombing out of the group stage at the Rio Olympic Games.
They raised people’s hopes, only to disappoint when it mattered most.
It seems like every time there is a major tournament, our soccer teams fail to deliver on their undoubted promises.
To exacerbate matters, they came up with the same, tired excuses after they crashed out of the Olympic Games without winning a single match.
It is not surprising that the teams had a tournament to forget. But what do the Olympic exploits of Banyana and Young Bafana have in common?
Well, they both held Olympic Games host nation Brazil to goalless draws in their respective groups. Young Bafana drew with a Samba Kings side that was led by Barcelona superstar Neymar in their opening game in Brasilia.
Banyana also held their own against a team marshalled by influential skipper and global superstar Marta, earning a point after a goalless draw in Manaus in their last group game.
Banyana finished bottom of Group E, which also included Sweden and China with one point and no goals in three matches.
They lost 1-0 to Sweden and 2-0 to China, before securing a famous but hollow goalless draw with the hosts in a dead rubber contest.
Young Bafana started their campaign like a house on fire, holding much-fancied Brazil to a goalless stalemate after playing the latter part of the match with 10 men.
They went on to lose their next match to Denmark 1-0 and ended their Group A campaign with a 1-1 draw with lowly Iraq.
Young Bafana finished the tournament at the bottom of the group with two points. They managed just one goal in 270 dismal minutes of soccer.
Why Banyana failed
Banyana were the lowest-ranked team in their group. Sweden were sixth, Brazil eighth and China were placed 12th, while Banyana went to the tournament a long way back in 52nd spot on the world rankings.
There is no professional women’s football league in South Africa and that remains the biggest challenge to the progress of the national team.
The women’s development structure does not make for easy viewing.
There is just no progress in women’s football. Yes, Banyana Banyana have managed to qualify for two successive Olympic Games, but they need all the help they can get to improve enough to advance to the knockout stages of Tokyo 2020.
Only a few Banyana players are fortunate enough to ply their trade in top European leagues. The rest are stuck at home in Mzansi.
Positives for Banyana
Goalkeeper Roxanne Barker was Banyana’s best performer.
She made a blunder against Sweden that cost them the game, but if it wasn’t for her, they would have been massacred by the Scandinavians, instead of losing by a single goal.
In a similar vein, their 2-0 loss to China would have been much worse were it not for a series of stupendous Barker saves. Banyana also owe their goalless draw against Brazil to her brilliant goalkeeping.
The result against the hosts shows that Banyana can indeed hold their own against the big guns.
Four years ago, they held defending world champions Japan to a goalless stalemate at the London Olympics. It is against the lesser teams that improvement is needed.
Why Young Bafana failed
Coach Owen Da Gama picked one of the most talented groups of players in recent years, but they faltered when the spotlight was on them and had to pack their bags after the group stage.
Da Gama’s charges failed because they didn’t score goals. They were guilty of underestimating Denmark and Iraq and paid a hefty price for their complacency.
They appeared to expend all their energy on the Brazil game and forgot that the more important encounters in the competition were in fact against Iraq and Denmark.
They ended up collecting just a point from both these matches and were lucky to get anything at all. Iraq fully deserved to win the game and will have been disappointed to settle for a draw.
But what are the positives of Young Bafana’s Olympic involvement?
Well, the influence of Itumeleng Khune and Abbubaker Mobara between the posts and in defence was tangible.
Had it not been for Khune between the sticks, the team would have suffered cricket-score defeats in all three games.
The Chiefs shot-stopper justified his selection for one of the over-age player slots. He could easily have earned a trio of man of the match awards.
He reminded everyone that he is still the country’s best goalkeeper by a long stretch.
Mobara too was a pillar of strength at the back and has certainly given Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba something to think about.
His man-marking of Brazilian talisman Neymar out of the game was something special. Mobara had a splendid tournament.