Coming home

2008-02-02 00:00

There will be widespread disappointment that the national soccer team has made an early return from the African Cup of Nations tournament, again finishing without a win. Inevitably, sections of the media and the public who seem always to demand instant gratification will again be casting about for scapegoats.

It must be hoped that the football authorities will not give in to this kind of pressure. If anybody seriously believed that Bafana Bafana would advance beyond the first round, that expectation was unrealistic. True, there were some shocking defensive errors and some disappointing finishing, but the overall performance was pretty much what the more sober analysts had anticipated.

Looking towards 2010, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira took a relatively inexperienced but promising squad to Ghana and along the way he lost the services of both his first-choice goalkeeper and his most accomplished midfield playmaker. Even so, the team played some constructive, attractive and effective football. But for two extraordinary saves, a goalpost rebound and (it must be said) a dubious refereeing decision, they might well have won their final match.

It certainly is a vast improvement on the debacle in Egypt two years ago. What is needed now is for the nation to throw its wholehearted support behind Parreira and his players as they prepare for the 2010 World Cup. Again, it may be unrealistic to expect South Africa’s squad to unseat the world’s top footballing nations, but the Ghanaian experience provides reason to hope for a very creditable showing.

Whether the same can be expected for the performance of the nation off the field may be doubtful. Ever since Fifa chose the venue, “2010” has acquired an almost mystical status as the measure of all things. Can we manage 2010? Will the stadia and infrastructure be ready? Will crime be under control? And what about the power outages? Even if the stadia and television networks have their extra generators, will the thousands of visiting fans find themselves trapped in gridlocked traffic, suspended in stalled cable cars and lifts, and inconvenienced in gloomy hotels, restaurants and shopping malls as thousands upon thousands of South Africans now are? Will they come expecting a world-class event and go home disenchanted, unsettled by anxiety about their personal safety and convinced that this is a society unravelling?

No matter how Bafana Bafana fare on the field, unless the government and the people can together deal with some very daunting problems, what ought to be a national triumph could well become a national humiliation.

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