Bafana can’t be worse in 2010

2010-01-02 00:00

SOME 160 days from World Cup kick-off, these are heady days for the country’s football scene, indeed, the entire South African nation.

Probably just as exciting is seeing off 2009, a year that will be remembered with little affection by those who hold out the hope Bafana Bafana might yet prove a competitive force at the 2010 extravaganza.

The national side won a paltry four mat­ches over the last 12 months, flattered to deceive in the Confederations Cup and ended the year devoid of any morale and confidence.

No wonder Carlos Alberto Parreira does not want to play any more friendly warm-up games before the finals get underway next June.

Ironically, it was during his first spell as national coach that he insisted on a tough programme of warm-up games for the side as they prepared for the World Cup finals.

He spelt it out as one of the key pillars of preparation for the tournament: regular games to measure South African strength against the best in the world.

“No more matches against African sides,” he decreed, instead turning to Europe and South America for a different diet of opponents. But with those continents embroiled in the business end of their 2010 World Cup qualifiers, it meant Bafana Bafana had to travel to get decent games.

It proved a menu of matches too leathery for the team to stomach. Bafana Bafana lost and lost and lost, the spiral of defeat turning in on itself and eventually rendering any of the benefits of playing these matches against top quality opponents negligible.

Parreira might have had a bright idea, but it certainly backfired. It also led to the firing of his compatriot, Joel Santana, ironically offering Parreira a chance to come back to the job.

The World Cup-winning coach is now banking his hopes on the upcoming training camps, where he hopes to deliver a level of fitness that he hopes will see South Africa replicate what South Korea achieved when they hosted the 2002 finals.

A tough opening round group, drawn in Cape Town at the start of December, did not add much to the gloom pervading the South African soccer scene. Up against France, Mexico and Uruguay, Bafana Bafana are to need a minor miracle to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first World Cup host not to make the knockout phase of their own tournament.

The year 2009 was pathetically poor at other levels of international competition for our football. In the African Champions League, for example, the country’s two representatives, Ajax Cape Town and SuperSport United, suffered embarrassingly early exits to mediocre opposition from Zimbabwe and Uganda.

It is often held that South African footbal­lers lack the bottle to compete at international level, are too timid and fearful, or do not display the necessary patriotism. These generalities are offered up without much thought. There is no question the vast majo­rity of players have, as their primary ambition, an opportunity to play national team football, and relish the chance.

But, collectively, Bafana Bafana have become a side devoid of confidence and are desperate for a pick-me-up.

Hopefully that will come collectively from feeding off the anticipation ahead of the World Cup, an atmosphere that needs to be created by locals whose fever and passion will lift the team.

The need for an effective 12th man is stronger than ever, meaning the vuvuzela’s intimidatory noise will become yet another in our rich collection of cultural weapons.

Looking on the bright side, 2010 can only be better than this passing year.

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator, international soccer writer and editorial director of Mzanzi Football.

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