Loads of hope in Bafanas’ defeat

2008-02-02 00:00

Rarely has there been such hope in defeat.

Bafana Bafana travelled to the Africa Cup of Nations apparently lacking self-belief and direction, scrambling to beat little Lesotho. The national team returns home this weekend with confidence and accolades, having utterly outplayed the superstars of Senegal.

“You’re crazy,” the prophets of doom will protest. “Buffoona Buffoona didn’t win a match in Ghana and failed to qualify for the quarter-finals. We are desensitised to the crime rate, and we have become desensitised to them as well. Nobody cares anymore. They’re useless; and the electricity has gone off again, and there’s corruption, and is the coach really getting R1,8 million per month?”

This is hardly the age of optimism in South Africa. Across the country, the general consensus is that the national team will be a national embarrassment at the 2010 World Cup, making history as the first ever host nation to be eliminated at the pool stage. However, a useful discipline in life is to “see yourself as others see you”, and it is surely worth noting what two dispassionate, knowledgeable, experienced European television commentators had to say during the Bafana performance against Senegal on Thursday evening.

“He’s done well for me today, Elrio van Heerden; loads of pace, good skill, bags of enthusiasm … South Africa have played some glorious stuff … Masilela has been excellent … wouldn’t it be great to see Zuma get a goal … Bryce Moon has had a really good game today, he’s done everything you’d expect of a fullback … that little fella, Teko Modise, he’ll be a real character come the World Cup, that’s for sure … South Africa are all over Senegal, they deserve a win …

“Mokoena has done very well in central defence … this young South African side will get on the road now and start playing friendlies around the world ... and what a pull they will be, the way they play … they have built on the second half performances against Angola and Tunisia, and played really well tonight, and they have shown they have the technical skills to be a real force in 2010 …

“Siphiwe Tshabalala dinks it in, off the post … that’s been the story of South Africa’s tournament, they have tried to walk it in … Tshabalala has been man of the match, he’s been instrumental in everything, really good skilful player with vision … still they come, Masilela … how they haven’t scored, it’s unbelievable … we’ll see a lot more from this South African team, only two years and six months out from what will be the biggest moment in their lives …

“There are plenty of positives … this skilful young side is going places with Carlos Alberto Parreira, who has been there and done it at the world level … they’ll go on to bigger and better things … well done, South Africa, unfortunate on this occasion … ”

These were not blinkered patriots or fanatical fans talking with their hearts; they were widely respected football people sitting in the stand, watching Bafana and describing what they saw. Their conclusion was that, with all their bright, smart, creative passing and approach work, Bafana only lacked what is colloquially known in football circles as a “killer touch in front of goal”, something that could yet be provided by the returning Benni McCarthy. Maybe they’re right. Maybe there is hope.

Maybe Parreira is actually performing wonders with this team, patiently identifying a skilful core, encouraging them to pass and move, to play attractive football and gradually build towards a level where they will surprise everybody in 2010. In fact, maybe the veteran Brazilian is doing so well that the South African public should start showing a little respect and stop wittering on about his market-related salary.

If he can guide the national team into the knock-out stages in 2010, his contract will have been excellent value. Today, every South African faces a simple choice: carry on moaning and groaning about Bafana, mock them and knock them and be miserable … or see the light, recognise the improvement, raise the likes of Mokoena, Modise, Zuma, Tshabalala, Pienaar, Masilela, Moon and Van Heerden on the collective shoulders of this winning nation, support them, believe in them, carry them forward to success in 2010. What will you do?

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author and involved in various SA bid campaigns (www.onesmallvoice.co.za).

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