It is a shame that inequality has become sharper during our constitutional democracy than during apartheid.
South African football heads into the Christmas recess with an interesting mix of realities for the league and the form of our national teams.
Firstly, none of the fancied big guns - Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates - are in the race to be top of the table. The festive break also marks the halfway mark for the 16-team league title. Bragging rights to be on top when the new year starts will be contested by Ajax Cape Town, Free State Stars and Wits.
Ajax, the current log-leaders with 25 points, can secure the right to stay on top by beating erratic Golden Arrows at Athlone on Saturday evening. But before then, Wits could become the new log-leaders on Friday night, provided they beat visiting Moroka Swallows.
However, should the Students fail to win, the log-leadership may be usurped by league rookies Free State Stars on Saturday afternoon. However, third placed Stars (23 points) have a potentially tough assignment as they host defending - yet struggling - champions, Sundowns, who are searching for their first win in six matches.
Stars however seem blessed already, as they will be playing at Bethlehem's Goble Park. While victory for the paperweights from the eastern Free State would take a 'miracle' of Nativity's proportions, a defeat for Sundowns could mean someone's head will roll.
As I suggested last week, Sundowns coach Gordon Igesund will be lucky to remain in charge at Sundowns by Christmas. The midweek home defeat by then bottom-of-the-log Platinum Stars has made matters worse for Igesund and his fatigued troops. But as history tends to repeat itself, Igesund was appointed last December, after Argentinian Miguel Gamondi was fired - even though the team wasn't losing.
South African soccer didn't hear from Gamondi again, until earlier this month when Platinum Stars signed him and in a cruel twist of fate for Igesund and Sundowns president Patrice Motsepe, Gamondi beat his former employers in his very first match back in the PSL!
Secondly, success-hungry local fans should rejoice that the new national teams at Under-17 and Under-20 level started off by reaching the final in their respective southern Africa championships, otherwise known as Cosafa Cup. However, both lost to Zimbabwe in the end, with the Under-20 team going down 3-0 in Mpumalanga two weeks ago, and the Under-17s losing 4-3 on penalties in Namibia last weekend.
Under normal circumstances such achievements by the junior teams should to be applauded, especially for the Under-17s who had only four days of preparation with new coach Chippa Moloi before heading to Namibia.
The sad part is that most of the critics who vent their anger on radio talk shows and in letters to newspapers, don't even know that both national teams are new and that valuable lessons were learnt during the respective tournaments. For his part Moloi said he will seek to work closely with his Under-20 colleague Serame Letsoaka, to copy the Zimbabweans.
Moloi also observed that some of the Zimbabwe Under-20 boys also featured in the Under-17 team as they were still eligible to play and in the end their country benefited. In any case, how can losing in the final mean failure, especially when you lose against a regional powerhouse like Zimbabwe? Here's hoping the Christmas break will mellow even the fiercest of critics. Here's hoping they will see the bigger picture next year.
Thirdly, all eyes will be on Bafana Bafana in the new year as they prepare for the 2008 Afcon tournament. The championships begin on January 20 in Ghana, but Bafana will only open their account three days later against Angola. Already there is talk that Angola are minnows. However, the Fifa rankings show that they are above us. Moreover, Angola played in the Soccer World Cup last year... while Bafana watched the spectacle at home.
Of course it will be important to beat Angola in order to start the tournament on a promising note. The crucial thing about our team will be to see if they stand up and fight, and even more crucial, score goals. Lest we forget, last year we became the continent's laughing stock when we returned from Afcon 2006 in Egypt without a goal or point.
Progressing through the first round, which is something we have failed to do in the last three editions, will be a big, big achievement. From there anything can happen.
Finally, SA strikers must stand up and be counted. Swallows' James Chamanga is destined to be the third Zambian in four years to top the PSL scoring charts at Christmas. He leads with 10 goals. This time last year Christopher Katongo had 15, and when the season resumed in January he had flown to Denmark to continue his career. Katongo won the Golden Boot with his half-season tally, as other strikers failed to overtake him in the last five months of the season.
If there's one thing the SA strikers must ask Santa for, that would be the ability to score goals. But on a more serious note, practice and dedication should be the answer.
Merry Christmas to all you soccer fanatics!
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