SOUTH African Football Association (Safa) president Kirsten Nematandani on Sunday gave embattled Gordon Igesund a boost by hinting that the Bafana Bafana coach’s job could be safe regardless of whether South Africa reach the semifinals of the African Nations Cup.
Bafana opened their campaign with an unconvincing 0-0 draw against Cape Verde in front of a crowd of 90,000 at the National Stadium on Saturday evening.
The South Africans are under pressure to improve on that result in potentially tougher matches against Angola on Wednesday and Morocco on Sunday, both at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
When he was appointed in June, Igesund was given the mandate of reaching the Nations Cup semifinals and qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. However, on Sunday Nematandani said that the two were separate targets and if Bafana fail to reach the semifinals, the coach could still have his second mandate — the World Cup — to aim for.
"I get asked the question, ‘Is it realistic that the coach has a target to reach the semifinals?’" Nematandani said. "I reply, ‘But what is the problem with a target?’
"They ask, ‘So at the end of Afcon is the coach staying or leaving?’ And I say: ‘The coach has two targets. One, take the team to the semifinal. The other target is qualify for the World Cup.’"
However, Nematandani also produced plenty of thinly masked references that suggested Safa at least expect Bafana to reach the knockout stages.
"It’s good news indeed that the stadium (for Wednesday) is almost sold out," the Safa president said. "Certainly, it’s a challenge for us in a sense that when we go out there in a sold-out stadium it requires that, coach, you and your troops — you’ve got to deliver.
"The last game (against Cape Verde) seemed to have created that opportunity. Of course, that’s nothing to celebrate about because we should have done ourselves a favour and collected maximum points. on Sunday it didn’t happen, but as they say, today doesn’t matter — what matters is tomorrow."
Nematandani’s scolding did not stop at the coach. Announcing prizes of autographed jerseys that were awarded to five Bafana players who have recently reached 50 caps, the Safa boss also had a dig at left wing Siphiwe Tshabalala, who has played in 74 internationals.
"Siphiwe with that experience that you have you’re supposed to give guidance to the young ones and of course, when you’re in that field your output should really tell that you have gathered that great experience," he said.
The players to receive jerseys were Siboniso Gaxa, Itumeleng Khune, Kagisho Dikgacoi (all 51 caps), Katlego Mphela and Bernard Parker (50) — at a briefing hosted by eThekwini municipality to welcome Bafana to Durban.
Igesund said he believes South Africa can reach the knockout stages.
"You know football’s a funny game and I’ve seen over many years involved in it, strange things can happen. And I think if we can get the momentum going, the confidence in ourselves and of the country behind us, we can do anything.
"It’s not always the best team that wins things. Sometimes it’s a team that’s together, or that really wants to do it. And I can tell this team wants to do it."
By on Sunday there were 2,500 tickets left for the public for Wednesday’s double header where South Africa meet Angola at 5pm and Morocco face Cape Verde at 8pm.
Bafana play Morocco on Sunday, also at Moses Mabhida Stadium.