Bafana Bafana finished bottom of the group with a single point after losing two matches, 3-1 and 2-1 to Algeria and Ghana respectively. Their single point was against Senegal (1-1).
Mashaba spoke to SAFA.net at the squad’s base camp in Mongomo, Equatorial Guinea.
Q: Coach you have had time to sit and reflect on Bafana Bafana’s exit from AFCON 2015, what’s your overall assessment?
The Second Phase was to qualify the team for AFCON 2015 which we also managed by defeating Sudan, Congo and denying African champions Nigeria chance to participate in the tournament. After qualifying, our hopes were high and we expected even more success from our team. I understand why South Africans are disappointed. We are also very disappointed but we are not discouraged because we played the top countries on the continent with a wealth of experience. We still competed and I believe if we used all our scoring chances we would still be in the tournament.
The first two games of the tournament would have sealed our participation in the next stage, but we allowed them to come back into the matches we should have easily won. The experience gained in this tournament will assist all of us. I strongly believe we are still on track regarding our mission and mandate to build a formidable team for 2018. We started on a high note by winning games in the building phase and some of the players might not yet be at the level we want them; but I am confident they will grow and take us to another level.
People are talking about Bafana Bafana not only in South Africa but on the continent as well. We have made our presence felt in the tournament. We would have loved to see the team progressing to the next round as it would have given us a better platform to test our character as a team. With time we will get better and make all South Africans proud.
Q: If we look back at the journey, do you think the way we qualified gave us a false sense of belief?
A: It’s a 50/50 thing. After qualifying, partly we said we have arrived more so because we played against strong countries, but at the same time we knew it was going to be tough. Good thing to have come out in the qualifiers is that we didn’t have a problem of scoring goals but they came from all angles. One game that comes to mind is the clash with Nigeria – four goals in that match and one of the highlights that our boys can stand their ground especially against the defending champions of Africa. Those are some of the positives to have to come out, but yes negatives also can help shape us going forward.
Q: Did everything go according to plan with preparations?
A: We appreciate the contribution of everyone and there will always be opinions, especially after the fact. We did the best we could to put together a team at short notice but were stopped in our tracks by some injuries, loss of form, players not playing in their clubs and also those that did not heed the national team call ups. Having said that, I need to compliment all the players that are here for the good job they have done.
Q: Do you have regrets about the players you selected for the tournament?
A: No, not at all. If you look at our selection criteria the main thing is current form. We had to register players on time and had to build the confidence of the squad we have, and yes there is a possibility that by the time we were about to leave, one other player would have raised his hand. But still I don’t have any regrets about the team selection; the players who are here have done well.
If you listen to the CAF officials and everybody around here, they are raving about the team – a very good and young team. If you look at the average age of this team and others in the tournament you can see we have a long life span. I know people wanted results. We did very well with the qualifiers raising a lot of hope in the process. It is quite an achievement that we qualified in the manner we did.
The players have established themselves and I will not be surprised if one or two gets an overseas offer. If you look at the stats, we were the fastest and quickest attacking team, but of course there are some areas that we need to work on when we get back home.
Q: Lack of experience from your young squad, did it play a role in the team exiting early?
A: Let me take you back to the Algeria game, 90 percent of those players play in big teams but we exposed them – had we scored the two goals and penalty we would be talking a different story. We took so many shots at goals but did not convert them into goals. At the back the boys stood firm, the middle was solid but unfortunately we conceded some rather soft goals.
Q: Looking at the squad, were you disappointed at some players not coming to the party at this tournament?
A: I would say yes but out of respect I will not mention their names. I have been speaking one on one with all the players.
Q: Some are saying if some players were here things would have been different – a name that comes to mind is Thulani Serero, Itumeleng Khune, Tefu Mashamaite.
A: Having those players in the team would not have guaranteed us doing well in the tournament. Perhaps people would have loved to see those players in the squad but they were not here. I don’t have any regrets, and I believe the squad we assembled is one of the best and they gave a good account of themselves.
We should not lose sight of what these boys of have done to get us here; only that we have failed to progress to the next round of the tournament. I am happy with the contribution of the players in this tournament, and yes, as I said before, some did not come to the party but we still managed to win the hearts of people with our display.
Had we scored the penalty and converted our chances we would not be talking what we are saying now. But I know and respect people’s opinions more so because we raised hopes that we can do it. We were all over Algeria until the late stage, injuries to key players at crucial moments also altered our course. But let’s not be harsh on these boys they did very well.
Q: Some people say if some overseas-based players were here things would have improved for Bafana Bafana….
A: We have four overseas-based players in our squad – Andile Jali, Anele Ngcongca, Darren Keet and Dean Furman. Do we have to call all the overseas-based players and forget about our local-based players? We have to blend them into a unit. The latter is correct and that is what we did. And those who were here from overseas commanded regular positions. I would have been worried to call them from abroad and put them on the bench.
On the other hand, how long have we played in these tournaments with the overseas-based players and not getting the required or desired results? It should not be a question of a player is based overseas so he walks into the team. People need to fight for positions and that is why this team has achieved so much. No one is guaranteed a place. It is a fact that if you look at the other teams in the tournament who have overseas-based players they are notch ahead because of experience.
While looking forward, we also have to look back at what works for us, what happened in the past and how we can use it going forward. We should not bank on players because of where they play. These boys have achieved, and if anyone is feeling bad we are feeling the same, if anyone is disappointed we are there too.
When people’s hopes were raised, ours were raised even more because we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Why don’t we give these boys a pat on the back and encourage them because this is the future team. And we are building a team of players who understand what it is to be patriotic.
Q: You used different players in the three matches – especially the goalkeepers?
A: I did so in a bid to find the number one goalkeeper in the country, which we don’t have at the moment. If we don’t give other goalkeepers a chance when are we going to know what we have?
Q: But some would say the goalkeepers are where the spine of the team starts?
A: I would like to agree with that. But we had three games and we needed to test the three goalkeepers that is why if you look in the middle of park, the centre of the spine, Furman and Jali were always there. We didn’t want to rattle that. We made some changes on the wings and the strike force, while the defence was more often than not forced changes if you think of Rivaldo and Thulani Hlatshwayo. All in all, what we were doing is about building a team.
Q: Did the injuries at the back also play a role?
A: I was shocked when Rivaldo got injured because it was early in the match. Then Eric Mathoho got a cut on the head and Thulani Hlatshwayo suffered concussion, and it disturbed our rythym but at the same time they made us strong.
Q: Before departure you said Bafana Bafana is coming back with the trophy, do you think you over promised as the head coach?
A: Most unfortunately as a leader you don’t play down your chances going around saying it is going to be tough. I would have killed my players. As a leader you have to be positive all the time even when you see this is a tough mission. What we, and I in particular, have been saying seemed to have worked especially if you look at the first and second games.
Q: Mission AFCON 2017 and FIFA World Cup 2018, are we still on course?
A: Oh yes for sure, we are on course. Let’s look at the kind of players we have here, half of them was for the first time they come to such a tournament. When we won AFCON in 1996 Orlando Pirates had won a CAF tournament the previous year – and some the players in the Bafana Bafana squad were from Pirates. It is the experience they gathered in the short space of time, and they knew what to expect.
This tournament is part of that journey in giving players the needed exposure. Over the years we have been blowing horns for other nations, now we have our U20 who have just won a trophy in Russia which shows we are going somewhere. It says the future is bright for us because those are the players who will graduate to U23 and then to Bafana Bafana.
Mind you some of the players in the U20 squad were also part of the Bafana Bafana squad a few months ago – like Fagrie Lakay and Dumisani Mbisi. In time we will be able to say we have the players who have gone through the ranks of junior national teams and they know it all.
Q: Do you regard exiting the group stages as failure?
A: Actually no, we don’t see this as a failure. We see this as a phase we must go through in order to achieve our goal. This setback has sharpened us for the future. We must just take positives from the whole exercise and use them going forward. Yes, we need to look at negatives as well so we don’t fall into the same trap again because people who forget their past will never be able to mould their way forward, but we need to focus on the positives that came out.
Q: Any message to the fans?
A: All of us, including the President of the country, churches, schools and everyone, we raised their hopes beyond expectations. They saw a winning team, they never expected us to lose to anyone. Their expectations were the same as us. Before we left, we were all hopeful that this team was going to do very well in the AFCON.
When all is said and done we would like to say to them, we love them, we care about them and we feel the same pain that they are feeling and we know that we have let them down. Finally, we really appreciated the support. We did not have to see it but we felt it but in the game of football you win some, you lose some.
To our fans, don’t despair there is always next time. We will go back, work hard and continue with our mission again. Thanks also to the South African Football Association (SAFA) for all the support as well as the PSL and clubs in particular for availing their players. Thanks also to all in the team for the great effort; I believe we were good ambassadors for our country even though the results did not go our way. But we made a good mark in this tournament and the future can only be brighter.
A special gratitude to the players for manner they behaved during this crucial period where for the first time in a long time Bafana Bafana did not have any negativity around it. The great team spirit in this camp did not go unnoticed. Thanks also to the media for the support, it is much appreciated.