Team profile: a matter of national importance

2009-11-24 12:18

The last time South Africa hosted a major international football

tournament was in 1996, when they welcomed 14 other countries for the African

Cup of Nations.

Going into the tournament nobody gave them a chance, but in the

end, two goals by Mark Williams in the final against Tunisia secured them a

first-ever Nations Cup triumph.

14 years later the country will again play host to an international

tournament and again nobody expects Bafana to win the competition - and if

success in 1996 was unexpected, a win in the World Cup would be a miracle.

After all, in 1996 the opponents were the likes of Algeria, Tunisia

and Ghana, this time around South Africa will be facing teams of the calibre of

Spain, Italy and Brazil.

The victory in 1996 undoubtedly was of great importance to an

emerging democracy and gave millions of South African football fans hope for a

better future.

But far from them seeing their hopes being realised, the Nations

Cup triumph has turned into somewhat of a curse as since then, the team has

failed to deliver what it promised 13 years ago.

Two unsuccessful participations at the World Cup in 1998 and 2002

and rapidly sinking fortunes at the African Cup of Nations since victory in 1996

has seen Bafana shares plummet.

But if fans thought that it can only get better, this year showed

them that it could get worse.

Although the Confederations Cup provided South Africans with a

feel-good factor and the Bafana-Bafana advanced to the semi-final, that could

not completely gloss over the reality that the team had only won one of five

matches - against minnows New Zealand and had managed a single draw against

Iraq.

Twice they lost to Spain and once against Brazil.

In the nine games after beating New Zealand, the draw against Iraq

was the only time the team managed to avoid defeat, losing to countries like

Germany, Norway and Ireland but also to a country like Iceland - ranked 96 in

the Fifa rankings.

This prompted the South African Football Association (Safa) to get

rid of coach Joel Santana, with some reports saying he resigned, while others

claimed he was fired.

Safa turned to Santana’s predecessor, Carlos Parreira and persuaded

him to return.

His first act was to bring back striker Benni McCarthy, who had

been shunned by Santana for choosing and picking the games he was prepared to

play for the national team.

The Blackburn Rovers player, who spends most of his time on the

Rovers substitutes bench, could also not change Bafana’s fortunes immediately

and Parreira’s first two matches in charge - against Jamaica and Japan - ended

in disappointing goalless draws.

It is now up to the World Cup-winning coach to form together a

competitive team for the World Cup, which can - at the very least - advance out

of the group stages.

Although South Africa can expect some help from football’s

controlling body Fifa during the draw process, Parreira faces an uphill battle

and many believe that winning the World Cup with his native Brazil in 1994 will

prove far easier than achieving any semblance of success with Bafana.

The

Coach : Apart from winning the World Cup with Brazil,

Carlos Alberto Parreira is best remembered for being in charge of four different

countries at the World Cup (Kuwait, 1982; United Arab Emirates, 1990; Brazil,

1994 and 2006 and Saudi Arabia, 1998).

Only Bora Milutinovic has one more

country in his resume. The well-travelled 66-year-old coach, who has had stints

in several Middle Eastern countries, as well as Turkey, came under criticism

during his earlier tenure with the South African team and in April last year

resigned, citing his wife’s health problems the reason.

He was brought back when the South African Football Association

parted ways with his successor Joel Santana.

The Star: Steven Pienaar is

probably as close as South Africa gets to having an international star. The

27-year-old Johannesburg-born midfielder is a regular in the Premier League with

his club Everton and has been linked with a move to a bigger club. He started

playing for the School of Excellence before signing his first professional

contract with Ajax Cape Town.

After impressing for the Ajax Amsterdam feeder club, he was brought

to the Netherlands, were he played an important part in helping the Dutch club

win the league in 2002 and 2004. A less spectacular move to Borussia Dortmund

followed. He was then sent to Everton on loan, before making the move permanent.

Factfile:

Nickname(s): Bafana Bafana (The Boys, The

Boys) Founded:

1991

Fifa affiliation: 1992

Highest Fifa ranking: 16 - August 1996

Lowest Fifa ranking: 124 - December 1992

Previous World Cup appearances: 2 (1998 and 2002)

Best World Cup performance: 1st Round

Date qualified for finals: May 15, 2004 (as hosts)

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