Bafana’s chance

2008-01-19 00:00

THE 2008 African Cup of Nations in Ghana is shaping up to be a watershed moment in Bafana Bafana’s preparations for the 2010 World Cup.

Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has been in his job for just over a year now. He has stressed that the South Africans’ campaign in Ghana, which starts with their opener against Angola in Tamale on Wednesday, is focused more on building towards 2010 than success at this tournament.

Nonetheless — and even Fifa president Sepp Blatter has made this point — Bafana do need to start showing signs of a revival in Ghana to restore confidence in the national team that it will not flop when South Africa hosts the world’s biggest sporting event in under three years’ time.

Two things are certain. One, Bafana will not fail as monumentally as they did when Ted Dumitru’s experimental team of no-hopers embarrassed the country by losing all three games and not scoring a goal at the finals in Egypt two years ago. Their current squad, despite the exclusion of leading striker Benni McCarthy, is of too high a quality, and so is the technical team. Even the support staff members of media liaison Gugu Marawa, personable communications manager Sifiso Cele and team manager Sipho Nkumane are better than those that served them in Egypt.

The second near certainty is that Bafana will not win this tournament. If they did, it would be the biggest upset in international football since Greece won the European Championships in Portugal in 2004.

While the Bafana camp have stressed that they will be going to Ghana to go all the way, realistically South Africa have sagged too far in world and African football over almost a decade of maladministration of the national team to be serious contenders. Parreira’s arrival was viewed by some as a quick fix, and has certainly not turned out that way. Bafana’s form under the Brazilian over the last year was patchy.

Bafana are, though, one of the the dark horses of Ghana 2008. Because they bombed out so spectacularly at their last Nations Cup, the African continent has been left confused as to what to expect from the 1996 champions. A quarter-final place from an evenly matched group that includes 2006 World Cup qualifiers Angola, 2002 Afcon finalists Senegal and 2004 winners Tunisia is a possibility, if the young South Africans finally click under Parreira as they have threatened to. For the team to reach the semi-finals seems not inconceivable.

What South Africa cannot afford is another mediocre Nations Cup performance. With two-and-a-half years to the 2010 World Cup, this would set alarm bells ringing and see panic buttons being pushed by the more extreme elements of the South African football press, who would surely start baying for Parreira’s blood.

Simply put: a poor performance could set Bafana on the road towards disaster for 2010; a mediocre one, with a first-round exit but having played some decent football, would maintain the status quo; and a good Nations Cup, reaching the quarter-finals playing commendable football, should set South Africa on to the road to a successful 2010. Reaching the semi-finals would send the country into delirium, and could really set Bafana up for 2010, though might also raise that old South African achilles heel of over-expectation.

The first scenario seems unlikely, bearing in mind Bafana’s well-organised preparations for the tournament at their training camp in Durban over the last two weeks. These included working under a specialised fitness trainer, Fernando Gonzalez, in the first week and morale-boosting, though ultimately meaningless in terms of results, warm-up victories over Mozambique (2-0) and Botswana (2-1).

Parreira said of the camp: “We had a good preparation here. It was not a long preparation, just 12 days, but I think we used the time we had properly for physical fitness, the tactical and technical aspects.

“And we had two games. We would like to have played three or four games, but there was no time. Either we train the team or we play games, and we preferred to do both.”

There are still some concerns. In both friendlies there were times when the defence threatened to open up to provide gaps that would have been pounced on by superior opposition. These were only brief moments, but ones that will be punished by determined opponents at the Nations Cup, and such lapses need to be eradicated. Finishing remains a problem, and the burden will be on Sibusiso Zuma to perform in the absence of McCarthy.

Despite these problems, first-time Nations Cup youngsters such as Bryce Moon, Teko Modise, Lerato Chabangu and Moeneeb Josephs; and up-and-coming stars such as Elrio Van Heerden, Tsepo Masilela and Siphiwe Tshabalala, have an opportunity to make their names in Ghana, and lift the country’s hopes toward 2010.

•Marc Strydom left yesterday for Ghana to cover the African Cup of Nations for The Witness and Weekend Witness.

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