Bafana Bafana: Ready Or Not, There They Are

Shakes-Mashaba

Image source: Pulse

With only one more sleep before the start of the latest edition of the African Cup of Nations, fans all over the continent are talking up their countries and the potential shot at glory. For South Africans, it’s become a case of how long the fairy tale under the Mashaba ‘Shake Up’ can last. But before we delve into that beautiful story, allow me to take you back a few years. It’s 2011, and we are deep into the qualifying rounds for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. South Africa are sitting second on the table going into the final game, in a group that includes Egypt, Niger and Sierra Leone. A win against Sierra Leone would ensure a safe passage through for Bafana, while a draw would also suffice, on condition the Egyptians beat Niger. As had been the case in most matches, the boys were finding it difficult to put the ball in the back of the net, but as news seeped through that Egypt were comfortably ahead against Niger, the Mbombela crowd were at ease, as a draw seemed more probable than a win seemed possible; and that’s how the game ended.

The fans, the coaching staff, the players, and possibly even the referee, came together in celebration, with a perfectly choreographed dance routine from the senior players being executed to the sound of singing and buzzing vuvuzelas. Joy and disbelief overcame the country, Bafana Bafana were off to Afcon by virtue of finishing second, ahead of Niger. But in the most tragic and heart breakingly embarrassing circumstances, news arrived that there was a misunderstanding of CAF rules on the part of the coaching staff, a detail nobody in the entire national team setup was aware of, a rule which stated that it was head-to-head, as opposed to goal difference that determined the final standings. And just like that, it was gone. No Afcon, no joy, no dance. The calamity!

The pain caused an uproar amongst South African fans, who then demanded change and a better Bafana Bafana. The top dogs obliged, substituting the then coach Pitso Mosimane for the more trusted and more cost effective, Gordon Igesund. The kit changed, the mentality changed, the style of play changed (somewhat), but it was results that the fans wanted, and failure to win the 2013 Afcon tournament, held in South Africa, meant even more change was needed. The order was given to recruit the most worthy of suitors for the job, to rescue what the Minister of Sport called “A bunch of losers”. A shortlist was drawn up, featuring some of football’s more reputable names, and after much deliberation, it was announced that Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba would be the man in the hot seat for the foreseeable future, a man who some quarters of the media considered “the cheap option” despite having held the position before and had recently brought glory to the Mzansi football fraternity. Which brings me to the beautiful story, ‘The Shake Up’, the fairy tale, The Maverick.

Having built a reputation for focusing on youth, and awarding national team call ups on merit, change under Mashaba was an inevitability, and with “the cheap option” tag and a mountain of pressure resting on his shoulders, it was up to the players to answer the critics on his behalf. The first chance they had to do so was during an AFCON 2015 qualifier against Sudan, a happy 3-0 occasion made possible by goals from Sibusiso Vilakazi and Bongani Ndulula. A fluke, some said, while a draw against Nigeria and a victory against the likes of the Ivory Coast and Zambia followed. Meanwhile, Shakes was building an army, the boys weren’t just getting results, but they were earning them, displaying the kind performances we had only seen in black and white and on video games; Bafana Bafana were now looking like a top class South African team and not a 3rd tier European side. A victory against Sudan secured Bafana’s place in the tournament with a game to spare, a game which they drew to ensure an unbeaten qualifying campaign.

I am yet to see fans so happy to see a coach with his hands on his head, but Mashaba’s trademark celebration and the number of times we have been able to witness it in recent times, are a sign that our football is moving in the right direction. A steady defence, a solid, creative midfield and an ever growing strike force have seen Bafana move from 69th on the FIFA rankings in August 2014 to 52nd in the latest rankings. If that does not represent some form of progress then I’m not sure what does. Taking an 11 game unbeaten run into the continent’s biggest competition is an admirable feat by any standard, regardless of whether it was a of string friendlies or back to back cup finals, because of the impact it has on the morale, attitude and mentality of the team and the fans.

The coach himself has talked up his side’s chances, going as far as to say that they will be returning after the final has been played. While some think this is placing unnecessary pressure on the squad, I reckon it’s the biggest indication of Mashaba’s belief in his boys, putting his money on his troops, and if the coach believes it, and the fans believe it, then the players too can play with confidence and belief; something that has been the hallmark of Bra Shakes’ tenure. Even the new sponsor Nike’s visually appealing kit represents the progress and belief amongst (most) South Africans right now; although many South Africans are finding it taxing on the pocket, especially after a very joyous festive season. So to answer the question “Are the boys ready?” my answer to that is, they are more ready now than they have been since the 1996 triumph, and whether they win the tournament or not, the boys have come a long way from the group once dubbed “a bunch of losers” by the Honourable Razzmatazz.

AFCON 2015 Country Profile: Equatorial Guinea

With the 30th edition of the African Cup of Nations set to get under way on Saturday (17th January 2015), The Grand Stand View Daily has compiled profiles of the various participating nations, to enusre that you, the fanatic, are a well informed viewer of the fixtures. Naturally, the first profile is that of the host nation, Equatorial Guinea.

Association Emblem             National Flag

Association Crest Sourced: Wikipedia

National flag sourced: Heraldy of the world

Group: A

Name: Equatorial Guinea

Nickname: Nzalang Nacional (Meaning: National Thunder)

Fifa Ranking: 118

ELO Ranking: 132

CAF Ranking: 36

Previous AFCON: In 2012 Equatorial Guinea qualified automatically as co-hosts with Gabon, and reached the Quarterfinal stage, where they were beaten 3-0 by the Ivory Coast. The team had failed to progress to the final qualification round for AFCON 2015, but were later afforded the opportunity to host the tournament, and therefore qualified automatically.

The Coach: Esteban Becker 

Esteban Becker
Image Source: Esteban Becker Official Website

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 31 August 1964, Esteban Becker’s first involvement with Equatorial Guinea came in June 2012, when he was appointed coach of the women’s national team. His tenure there proved to be successful, as he guided the team to the 2012 women’s championship, winning every game along the way, and not conceding a single goal during the course of the tournament. This feat led to his appointment as Director of football for all national Equatoguinean sides, and more recently being called upon to replace Spaniard Andoni Goikoetxea at the helm of the men’s national team at the start of 2015.

THE SQUAD

Captain: Emilio Nsue

Average Age: 25 

GOALKEEPERS:

Name: Aito Embela Age: 18 Position: Goalkeeper Club: Malaga Juvenil (youth team), Spain

Name: Carlos Mosibe Age: 23 Position: Goalkeeper Club: Atletico Malabo, Equatorial Guinea

Name: Felipe Ovono Age: 21 Position: Goalkeeper Club:  Deportivo Mongomo, Equatorial Guinea

DEFENDERS: Name: Igor Engonga Age: 20 Position: Centre Back Club:  Club Deportivo Tropezon, Spain

Name: Daniel Evuy Age: 29 Position: Centre Back / Right Back Club: Leones Vegetarianos; Equatorial Guinea

Name: Miguel Angel Maye Age: 24 Position: Right Back Club: Akonangui, Equatorial Guinea

Name: Rui Da Gracia Age: 29 Position: Centre Back Club: Hibernians, Maltese

Name: Sipo Bohale Age: 26 Position: Left Back / Centre Back Club: AEK Larnaca, Cyprus

Name: Diosdado Mbele Age: 24 Position: Centre Back Club: Leones Vegetarianos, Equatorial Guinea 

MIDFIELDERS:

Name: Juvenal Edjogo-Owono Age: 35 Position: Attacking Midfielder Club: FC Santa Coloma, Andorra

Name: Viera Ellong Doualla Age: 27 Position: Central Midfielder Club: The Panthers, Equatorial Guinea

Name: Pablo Ganet Age: 20 Position: Attacking Midfielder Club: San Sebastian de los Reyes, Spain

Name: Javier Balboa Age: 29 Position: Right Winger / Attacking Midfielder Club: Estoril, Portugal

Name: Carlos Martin Briones Age: 29 Position: Midfielder Club: College Europa, Gibraltar

Name: Emilio Nsue Age: 25 Position: Right Midfielder / Right Winger Club: Middlesborough, England

Name: Iban Randy Iyanga Age: 27 Position: Left Midfielder / Left Winger Club: Iraklis Psachna, Greece

Name: Ivan Zarandona Age: 34 Position: Defensive Midfielder Club: Biu Chun Rangers, China  

FORWARDS:

Name: Ruben Belima Age: 22 Position: Left Winger Club: Real Madrid Castilla

Name: Ivan Bolado Age: 25 Position: Centre Forward Club: Pune City, India

Name: Raul Fabiani Age: 30 Position: Centre Forward Club: Olimpic Xativa, Spain

Name: Kike Age: 21 Position: Striker Club: Mallorca B, Spain

Name: Ruben Dario Age: 21 Position: Forward Club: Leones Vegetarianos, Equatorial Guinea

Name: Ivan Slavador Edu Age: 19 Position: Striker Club: Valencia Mestalla, Spain

WORD ON THE STANDS

Having missed out on the tournament in 2013, the host nation will be looking to make an impression in this year’s edition of Africa’s showpiece.  Under the guidance of new coach Esteban Becker, the new look Nzalang Nacional side will be desperate to overcome their failure to qualify for the tournament and will be determined to shine in front of their home crowd. With a solid combination of youth and experience, and the influx of Spanish based players coming into the side, Esteban Becker will be hoping his side emerge as the surprise package in this tournament. Home fans always expect a good showing from their side, regardless of their odds or rankings, and Equatorial Guinea is no exception to this. Esteban Becker’s squad selection features a large youth contingent, which may lead to scepticism amongst some fans, but his success with the women’s team will be a source of optimism and excitement among the bulk of the Equatoguinean following.