Bafana Bafana will need the support of an entire nation if they are to beat the odds at the Africa Cup of Nations

2013-01-05 00:00

THERE is exactly a fortnight to go until Bafana Bafana open their 2013 Africa Cup of Nations campaign against tournament debutants Cape Verde in Johannesburg, and the consensus among South African fans is that coach Gordon Igesund’s chances of emulating Clive Barker’s 1996 dream team are almost non-existent.

Those who feel this way do not do so without reason. Bafana are the lowest ranked side in their group (87th), which includes Angola (84th) and Morocco (74th).

That Cape Verde are the highest ranked team in Bafana’s group (69th) speaks volumes about how far the 2010 World Cup hosts have fallen.

After the 1996 triumph, Bafana found themselves among the world’s elite as they occupied an all-time high 16th on the Fifa rankings in August that year.

Three world cups later, one wouldn’t have thought it possible for a team with such an abundance of resources to fall so far down the international ladder.

But as any sports fan will tell you, nothing is impossible, and Bafana now find themselves in a position that is embarrassing at best.

But there is a shining light ahead of this month’s continental showpiece. It has, thankfully for Bafana, nothing to do with administrators, coaching staff or even the ability of players. It is the age-old phenomenon of home ground advantage.

Playing on your own turf in front of your own fans should, theoretically, not have any bearing on the outcome of a sporting contest.

I’ve never understood why it has always counted for so much, because at the end of the day the pitch plays the same way for both sides and what happens in any given match-up is in no way physically aided by the pitch’s surroundings.

I understand that climate plays its part in assisting home teams, but that is about as far as it goes.

The ability of an overly vocal home crowd to lift the performance of its players is supernatural and a vital component of what makes sport such a lovable entity.

Remember the Springboks at the 1995 rugby World Cup, South Korea at the 2002 football World Cup and Sri Lanka at the 1996 cricket World Cup?

There was just no way that any of those nations were going to succeed the way that they did in those events.

Even Bafana’s 2010 World Cup experience lends itself to the impact that home ground advantage can have. Siphiwe Tshabalala’s blistering strike against Mexico couldn’t stop a group stage exit, but even in Bafana’s final game against France there was a glimmer of hope that the unthinkable would happen and the hosts would make it through to the last 16.

The thing about home ground advantage — and here’s the clincher — is that it doesn’t count for much if your own fans are half expecting you to fail.

And this is where the public needs to step up. If Bafana are to defy the odds and go the distance, they will not be able to do so without the support of the many football lovers in this country. Even a glimmer of the euphoria that was seen in 2010 will do the trick.

Ticket sales for the tournament are not looking too peachy at this stage, and the worst possible thing that could happen is for Bafana to play in front of a stadium that isn’t filled to capacity.

The one thing that history has taught us is that our boys will need all the help they can get.

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