There have been few constants in African football since Egypt won the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) for a record seventh time — a third in succession — in 2010.
If anything is certain these days, though, it is that South Africa — at the lower end of the continent — are in quite some decline.
It was steady, at first, as Bafana Bafana slipped from picking medals — gold, silver and bronze, in that order — in their first three AFCON appearances to not making it out of the group stage at the three editions from 2004 to 2008.
Now, it’s really steep: a free-fall that has seen them feature at just three of the last six tournaments (one of which they qualified for only as hosts).
And they’ll be out of the next one, too, after a 2-0 loss away to Sudan a week ago left them short of the fare required to secure a ticket to Cameroon 2022.
The latest failure would sting a bit more, considering South Africa’s current elevated profile; only last month — remember? — was Patrice Motsepe, a South African, elected president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
And, in inter-club football, South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns tick the favourites box as the CAF Champions League enters its knockout stages; a little lower, in the CAF Confederation Cup, Orlando Pirates look good off the blocks in Group A, even if it’s early days yet.
It’s why this exit has got head coach Molefi Ntseki axed (clumsily, I must add), and seen Danny Jordaan — president of the South African Football Association (SAFA), and the hero of the country’s successful 2010 FIFA World Cup hosting — stripped of one more layer of public goodwill.
But there’s a chance to sort out this fresh mess, to bounce back almost immediately, when the second stage of the Qatar 2022 qualification series gets underway in June.
The World Cup is a platform that South Africa haven’t graced in over a decade, and they’re just as desirous of getting there as they are of reaching the AFCON — never mind that the former is a far grander event.
In doing so, South Africa would have the added incentive of getting one over Ghana, the rival that did the most to derail their Cameroon-bound train. Should they pull it off, surely, the soreness being felt right now over next year’s AFCON absence would be soothed.
And if they don’t?
Well, then, the decline — no longer steady, clearly — would get even steeper.
Yaw Frimpong — Ink & Kicks