What a fine mess!
I remember the then Manzini Sundowns PRO Sonnyboy Mabuza branding what had appeared to be a credible away draw for Sihlangu a fluke.
The squad had surprised all and sundry by earning a vital point away to Eritrea almost four years ago when they battled to qualify for the African Nations Cup 2008.
Then, the away point seemed to suggest that the local squad had finally turned the corner in as far as the international game was concerned. Better still, the result seemed to suggest Sihlangu had at last shed their bad travellers’ tag.
For his comment, Mabuza became an instant enemy. He was vilified left, right and centre and some sections of the media took pleasure in lambasting him, terming his comment, untimely, unpatriotic and unSwazi. Phew! I am positive the man wished for the earth to open up and swallow him after instantly becoming public enemy number one.
Four years later, Mabuza’s assertion vindicates him. He is being proved right. Four years later, Sihlangu is easy meat for visitors to tear into shreds even on home soil. Four years after holding Eritrea to a 1-all draw away from home, the squad is still grooming for the future.
My gripe today is not so much as to ‘Shakes’ team performance on Sunday that has seemingly impressed many including the National Football Association of Swaziland (NFAS) top brass. It is instead the sloppy FA that is continually failing to do anything positive for the game.
I wish I could tell ‘Shakes’ and his technical bench that the squad played well against Zimbabwe on Sunday.
Well, as I saw the game, they did not.
Their play perfectly depicted the kind of preparations the squad underwent the week leading up to the game – pathetic.
It was not ‘Shakes’ fault, although I believe he could still have done much, much better with his approach and line up on Sunday. I thought he could have still chalked up a better result had the technical bench realised that the squad had no anchorman on the day.
I thought ‘Shakes’ could have avoided playing the Amagagasi star, Mchichwa Gamedze when it was obvious the stage would prove too big for the regional player to be thrown into the deep end like that ahead of a proven striker like Ndoda Mthethwa, who I think has done enough to cement his place as the ideal top man in the squad in the absence of the veteran Siza, ‘Fash’ and others.
But no, ‘Shakes’ thought otherwise and that is why it was hardly surprising when he opted to take out the boy minutes into the first half. Again, I expected Shakes to immediately pull out the normally dependable Malungisa ‘Hurah’ Dlamini who was clearly off form and getting worse with each passing minute instead of delaying Hurrah’ substitution until late into the game.
I have however left the tactical aspect of things to senior reporter Bhekisisa Magongo (see page 42 for match analyses).
What gets me very hot under the collar is the sad realization that the FA sees nothing wrong in the manner in which they do things.
That is why the football mother body will have all the guts to say they are happy with Sihlangu showing and conveniently forget to add that they have contributed immensely to the mess the sport is in.
To me their acknowledgement that the squad played well is a sign of an association that does not know whether it is coming or going.
In fact, coming from the FA, this was hardly surprising considering the lows local football has sunk to. Losing 1-2 at home against Zimbabwe, a country Sihlangu beat 2-0 away in Harare a few years ago is now considered playing well by the powers that be.
It seems just like yesterday when Sibusiso Spoko Dlamini and his ‘partner’ Siza ‘King Pele’ Dlamini destroyed the Zimbabweans in their own backyard way back in 2002 and Sihlangu advanced to the semi finals of the COSAFA Cup.
Eight years later the FA wants everyone to be content with a mediocre showing that also results in a loss on home soil?
So all the Sihlangu memorable wins of the past were a fluke? I am afraid so. If not, why has the squad failed to improve on past year’s performances but instead got worse?
What is so sickening about the Zimbabwe loss is the realization that it could have been avoided had the FA played its part.
Sihlangu never engaged in any meaningfully friendly match ahead of the game. Do not even consider the practise match against Bafana Bafana because Sihlangu never took that game as a preparatory one for the Zimbabwe clash, as the local squad fielded all international players playing in South Africa despite the fact that those players were not eligible to play on Sunday.
As a face saver, the NFAS organised a friendly game against a hastily assembled Foreign XI, which was only played about five or four days before Sunday’s game.
Sihlangu as expected easily romped to a 3-0 win something that misled most into thinking that indeed there was a ‘glimmer of hope’ for the squad against Zimbabwe, the COSAFA champions.
The gulf in the class between the two squads was glaring on Sunday.
The NFAS is clearly letting the squad and the nation down. With nine million Emalangeni, three million a year, the association is failing to get Sihlangu decent preparatory games ahead of international matches.
This should be basic.
The fact that Sihlangu has been able to obtain positive results in the past when there was no money should have sprung the FA into action.
All these years, the FA has always found pleasure in telling everyone who cared to listen that they were broke and as such could not be expected to perform miracles with regards to Sihlangu’s performance.
MTN Swaziland fortunately came on board and pumped in so much money. Now what is the FA’s excuse?
Why are they failing to do the basics, like get the squad decent preparatory games?
Bomber Mthethwa and company at the Sigwaca House have failed football.
Right now, people would be fooled into thinking that the squad, which played on Sunday is one for the future – one headed for bigger things.
Well, I have news for everyone. The squad, which played on Sunday, could be playing together for the last time after the return game away in Zimbabwe.
We have heard it before Sihlangu coaches expressing desire to ‘keep the team together’. It never happens.
And because the country has a Football Association that does not know whether it is coming or going it was very easy for the association not to even bother trying to request some of the players’ employers to release them from work ahead of the game.
As a result, Mashaba had to do without some of the most influential players in the squad. I really do not want to believe that the players’ employers would have failed to release the players at least four or three days before the game. After all this what happens all over the world.
While Mashaba and his technical bench might have had their flaws on Sunday, the FA should shoulder a larger chunk of the blame for literally sitting and doing nothing rendering Sihlangu to be like sheep to the slaughter. I really wonder who will bail the local game out of this mess. Bekunene, safa!
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