Pirates tops in 2011

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The rise and dominance of Soweto giants Orlando Pirates remained the biggest positive in a checkered 2011 for SA football.

The year was not as prosperous as would have been expected following the successful staging of the Fifa World Cup in 2010 and the promise shown by Bafana Bafana, the flagship side.

It ended up being a disastrous one for the senior and junior national men’s teams.

The exception was the sterling performance by the senior women’s side, Banyana Banyana, who qualified for next year’s Olympic Games in London.

Bafana took a step backwards by failing to reach the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations after misinterpreting a qualifying rule.

It was a dramatic period that climaxed with a national apology from the SA Football Association (Safa) after a public outrage, none more vocal than that of Sports minister Fikile Mbalula.

The Bafana name was the topic of another discussion for early parts of the year as Safa contemplated changing the team’s nickname because they did not own the trademark rights, which were held by Stanton Woodrush (Pvt) Ltd.

In August, after an initial demand in the region of R40 million for the name, Safa and Stanton Woodrush agreed on a R5 million fee.

It was a rare bit of good news as the current administration cleaned up a mess largely created by a previous regime.

Safa’s image, though, quickly went downhill again when it was locked in a bitter public rebuttal with a traditional healer over alleged fees owed.

Meanwhile, the SA Under-23 team, Baby Bafana, failed to qualify for the Olympics after they struggled to string a squad together for the final qualifying tournament in Morocco at the end of the year.

It was the latest in a Safa-Premier Soccer League saga that resulted in a war of words between the U-23 team’s coach, Shakes Mashaba, and the league’s chairman, Irvin Khoza.

Khoza, also the chairman of Pirates, was nonetheless all smiles on the domestic front where his Buccaneers lifted four major titles in 12 months. They clinched the Premiership on the final day of the league season in May, beating Ajax Cape Town and arch rivals Kaizer Chiefs to the challenge.

In all, Pirates have won five of the six titles up for grabs in the last two seasons.

They continued to taste success this year, even after Khoza raised some eyebrows when he replaced last season’s treble-winning Dutch coach Ruud Krol with Brazilian philosopher Julio Leal.

It was an open secret Krol’s hard-nosed approach was unpopular within the club structures, while Pirates were also seeking a more liberal and enterprising brand of play with Leal.

Bolstered by the high-profile signing of Benni McCarthy, the Buccaneers squad will play in the Caf Champions League in 2012 where they should give a good account of themselves.

Pirates remain the only SA club to have won the esteemed African club competition, back in 1995, and have set their sights on it again next year.

On the international front, Bafana will play their first 2014 World Cup qualifying games in June, while also preparing to host the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) competition.

The coming year is likely to make or break national coach Pitso Mosimane, after the public relations blunder that followed his team’s failure to qualify for the 2012 Afcon tournament, as Bafana slid back down the world rankings after a steep climb.