Bafana Bafana begin their qualifying campaign for the 2018 Fifa World Cup this evening against Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou, with the odds on them making it to Russia firmly stacked against Shakes Mashaba’s men.
One has to go all the way back to 2002 to find the last time South Africa qualified for the World Cup finals, Carlos Queiroz’s team sealing the deal, interestingly, in Ouagadougou with a 1-1 draw against the “Stallions” in July 2001.
Pretty much ever since, Bafana Bafana have been stuck in a pit of mediocrity from which they show little sign of emerging. A joke started that Bafana only play in tournaments that they host, as between 2010 and 2014 the only major finals South Africa participated in were their own 2010 World Cup and 2013 Nations Cup.
Mashaba did get the team to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, but South Africa failed to make an impression at the finals and it has been downhill for him since, with the side failing to qualify for Gabon 2017.
This means South Africa will have played in just two of the last five continental finals, including the tournament they hosted – a hopeless record.
If South Africa cannot qualify for the Nations Cup on a regular basis, what possible hope can they have of making it to Russia, with only the winners of Group D getting on that World Cup plane? Burkina Faso have never qualified for the World Cup, but they are an improving side, making it to the last five Afcon finals on the bounce.
On home turf, Paulo Duarte’s side have to be favourites to beat Bafana today. Then comes a home game against group favourites Senegal next month and it looks likely that if Mashaba cannot get a win in either of these matches, he will be another coach thrown on the scrapheap by the South African Football Association.
The prevailing feeling, however, is that whoever coaches this side simply is not good enough.