As Bafana Bafana prepare to travel to Uyo in Nigeria next month for the opening game in the 2019 African Nations Cup qualifiers‚ they will be mindful of the potential for gamesmanship as their hosts seek to make their travel experience as uncomfortable as possible.
Missing buses‚ delayed fights‚ seedy hotels and bumpy training pitches are still standard fare in many countries on the African continent as associations and clubs seek to gain an advantage by treating their guests with disdain.
But South Africa should be prepared because there have been many such experiences in the past.
The five craziest trips ever taken by South African football sides on the continent are:
ORLANDO PIRATES at TP Mazembe Englebert:
The Congolese club needed to come back from a two-goal deficit against Pirates in the 2013 Champions League and looked to have fixed it with Seychelles referee Bernard Camille to have everything go in their favour‚ including two penalties which the late Senzo Meyiwa brilliantly saved.
In order to disguise their subterfuge‚ Mazembe unplugged the planned TV coverage‚ chasing cameramen from their position and locked up the Pirates security officials for the duration of the 90 minutes and confiscated the mobile phones of reporters.
But the heroics of the Buccaneers saw them lose 1-0 only to advance on aggregate at the end of a charade that only served to heighten Pirates’ resolve and help them onto the final.
BAFANA BAFANA at Congo:
Pointe Noire is a nice enough seaside town with a casino and some good eateries but AK-47 totting soldiers at the Bafana Bafana pre-match training destroyed any illusions.
The military initially refused to allow the South Africa squad to go into the ground to prepare for their World Cup qualifier‚ sticking their rifle butts in the stomach of members of delegation.
Once they relented they kept up the intimidation by positioning themselves menacingly on the edge of the pitch.
The day of the match saw the Bafana changeroom invaded by rivals fans as security turned a blind eye.
It was a 2-0 defeat for Clive Barker’s team but they had the last laugh as they beat the Congolese several months later to qualify for a first-ever World Cup finals appearance.
BAFANA to Nigeria:
Bafana’s first trip to west Africa was to play the Super Eagles in Lagos in 1992 in a World Cup qualifier‚ just months after rejoining FIFA after Apartheid-enforced isolation.
The South African Football Association arranged with the South African Airways that their flight to Abidjan could land in Lagos to drop off the squad.
But when the plane approached Lagos the Nigerians refused permission to land‚ forcing the squad to go on to the Ivory Coast‚ where they were stranded without cash.
Eventually the South African embassy in Abidjan sorted the problem and after a day of sitting around airports the team made it to the game on time.
The Nigerians need not have bothered.
Bafana were thumped 4-0 that day and it should have actually been 10-0.
KAIZER CHIEFS to Esperance:
Those who wonder why Chiefs never seem as enthusiastic about playing in African club competition as the likes of Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns must look at footage of the 2005 Champions League clash against the Tunisian giants.
The first leg away was so scandalously refereed by the Egyptian Ahmed Auda that Chiefs were on a hiding to nothing as Esperance were handed two soft penalties in the first quarter hour of the match.
Auda was suspended by the Confederation of African Football for his obviously biased performance but that didn’t help Chiefs‚ demoralised by the decisions and who saw their fight collapse as they let in a further two goals to give themselves little chance in the return leg.
Their elimination meant Chiefs dropped down to the African Confederations Cup and they subsequently withdrew‚ incurring a two-year suspension.
JOMO COSMOS to Daring Club Motema Pembe:
There were no direct flights to Zaire in 1993 when Cosmos went to play in the African Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final.
Instead the team flew Air Afrique to Brazzaville and took the two hour ferry across the mighty Congo River‚ arriving on the other side‚ where predictably there was no one to meet the side.
Hours later they finally got transport to a dingy hotel where diamond smugglers sat in dark corners with sunglasses doing dodgy deals.
Breakfast‚ lunch and super was chicken and rice and one Coke per player.
The bus drive to the training ground was over an hour although it seemed to Cosmos players they were passing the same buildings several times over.
But when they got to the stadium for the match Cosmos were bemused to find half the crowd cheering for them.
The supporters of DCMP’s hated rivals AS Vita Club took up half the stadium and roared on every move made by Helman Mkhalele‚ Mark Fish and company.