Something missing

2018-06-28 06:01

ABSORBING the super colourful and highly exciting scenes from the football pitches, stands and streets of Russia 2018 is akin to viewing a painting that is great in size and detail, but would be even more spectacular with a certain addition to it.

There’s plenty to take in, from wonderful stroke work to a lively mixture of superficial and thoughtful aspects. It pleases the eye and mind, but the heart would just be slightly happier if there existed just two extra lines of green and yellow — the colours of the South African national football team’s outfit.

For the third time in the past four World Cup tournaments, the long-struggling Bafana Bafana have been sorry absentees from the massive football artwork organised by Fifa.

The “footy” representatives of Africa’s richest land did not make it to Germany 2006, played at home in 2010 (without success), missed out on Brazil 2014 and again failed to book a ticket to Russia. Sad to say, they would likely also have been spectators in 2010 had the tournament been awarded to another country and required Bafana Bafana to go through a qualifying competition, as opposed to the automatic entry they enjoyed as hosts. In action-packed Russia, the “Dark Continent” is instead represented by Tunisia, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco and Egypt — countries which have been only too happy to see the “rich boys” from the south of the continent fail to get their football act together on such a regular basis.

Special moments of this World Cup so far include Mexico’s stunning victory over defending champions Germany through heavy pressing and quick counter-attacking throughout, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s magnificent hat-trick for Portugal against 2010 champions Spain in ultra-modern stadia and against a backdrop of vibrant crowd panoramas.

And then we get the game-breakers, such as Ronaldo, strutting their stuff and making the event more memorable.

It still would have been even more meaningful for South African fans had coach Stuart Baxter’s men been able to claim a berth at this splendid football feast, but the grand consolation is high-definition coverage of a tournament where even the “smaller” teams seem extremely aware of the demands of the modern game, starting with the need to do everything at a high pace.

It’s downright scandalous that Bafana Bafana have missed so many World Cup tournaments and robbed their fans of being part of something special (the ones who can afford it, at least).

In 26 years of international football post-isolation, the South African national senior men’s team have also failed to qualify for African Cup of Nations tournaments on too many occasions for comfort. The country’s football administrators have much to answer for.

Granted, they had first to negotiate a catch-up period after the isolation period and invest major time and money into administrative issues before being able to focus on tactical and technical issues on the field of play. But it seems the battle is far from over, simply because not enough has been done in the hugely critical area of youth development.

And, while some countries, including Morocco, have relied on the African diaspora to beef up their teams with good players born in Europe to parents of African origin, South Africa has not particularly focused on this dynamic.

Moreover, too many of this country’s football exports have failed to make the grade in the stronger, more lucrative European leagues to create a positive spin-off for Bafana Bafana in terms of providing enhanced play that some countries get from their top players having become extra sharp while working in places such as France, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Holland and Portugal. Andile Jali is the latest of many South African stars to have returned home after a less-than-thrilling period abroad. The only way out is highly focused youth development. The SA Football Association is well aware of this, which is why it has an ongoing “Vision 2022” programme designed to lift Bafana Bafana into the top 20 of the world rankings and top three in Africa.

But whether all the elements of that programme are being implemented quickly enough is to be questioned, considering that 2022 is just four years away and Bafana are as low as 74th, and not even a single of the African teams playing in Russia are in the much-desired top 20 bracket.

Who will paint a lovely football picture for South African fans?

• Carl Peters is the sports editor of The Witness.

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