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Sunday, 14 January 2024 10:53

Eto'o 'baffled' by Bafana Bafana's Africa Cup of Nations dismal performances.

Staff Reporter.

African legend Samuel Eto'o is puzzled by the generally dismal performances of South Africa at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) ahead of their 2024 debut against Mali on Tuesday.

"I am baffled as to why Bafana Bafana (The Boys) have constantly underperformed at the Cup of Nations," he told AFP during a visit to South Africa.

"The South African league is well organised and one of the best in Africa so I do not understand why the national team is not that good.

"Football officials need to sit down and plan how to take Bafana to another level and make it the best national team in Africa.

"Given the strength of the national league, that is possible," said Eto'o, a two-time Cup of Nations winner with Cameroon and the leading all-time scorer in the competition with 18 goals.

Now president of the Cameroon Football Federation, Eto'o played for numerous European clubs including Barcelona, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Everton during a 22-year career.

South Africa return to the Cup of Nations after failing to qualify two years ago, and face Mali, Namibia and Tunisia in Group E in Korhogo, the most northern of five Ivory Coast host cities.

Expectations in South Africa are that Bafana must at least draw with Mali or Tunisia and beat Namibia to progress as top-two finishers or one of four highest ranked third-placed teams.

After finishing first as hosts, second and third in their first three appearances, Bafana have constantly flopped. They failed to even qualify for four of the last seven editions.

When South Africa beat Tunisia in the 1996 final before an 80,000 crowd including then President Nelson Mandela, it was widely believed they would become an African football powerhouse.

- Start of slump -

Second and third places in the next two tournaments seemed to confirm that the country, after decades in the apartheid-induced wilderness, would be constant title challengers.

But a quarter-final loss to 2002 hosts Mali signalled the start of a slump that has continued almost uninterrupted since.

In six subsequent appearances the best they have managed is two quarter-finals appearances, and one of those was as 2013 hosts.

Benni McCarthy, scorer of four goals in 13 minutes in a 1998 group triumph over Namibia and now part of the Manchester United coaching staff, blames a lack of desire for the decline.

"They lack the hunger to join a European club, battle the cold weather and fight for a starting place," the 46-year-old all-time Bafana leading scorer told reporters.

"Unlike a few decades ago when every South African footballer craved a transfer to Europe, the current group are happy to stay at home, earn good salaries and be socially popular.

"I coached two top-flight South African clubs and often got the impression that mobile phones were seen as a more important asset than a football."

England-born Stuart Baxter, twice coach of Kaizer Chiefs, the most popular club in the country, agreed with McCarthy.

"When I first came to South Africa (2005) footballers were chomping at the bit to go overseas. Not any more.

"There is a lot of money now thanks to TV rights and sponsorships. Some players are earning huge salaries.

"The attitude of many seems to be why bother going to Europe when I am adored here, can drive an expensive car and have lots of admirers."

Only two South Africans -- Lyle Foster of Burnley and Lebo Mothiba of Strasbourg - are with top-five European league clubs and neither will be in the Ivory Coast.

Burnley said it would be unwise for Foster to leave England as he recovers from mental health challenges while a knee injury has sidelined Mothiba.

© Agence France-Presse.