Lloyd Harris stokes SA pride after Bafana troubles

Lloyd Harris (Getty Images)
Lloyd Harris (Getty Images)

Cape Town - It might sound illogical, but there it is in a nutshell.

Budding South African tennis player Lloyd Harris' reputation rose sky-high after his first-round 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 defeat against Roger Federer at Wimbledon, while a dark cloud hovered over national soccer team Bafana Bafana after their qualification for the last 16 round of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt.

Success, sometimes, can be accompanied by lingering misgivings and failure in some instances is experienced with a great deal of credit attached to it.

And this week's performances and accompanying results of South Africans in major sports surroundings surely proved the point.

In his match-up against Federer, not only did the relatively inexperienced 22-year-old Harris exceed all expectations in the most notable and noticed game of his career, but he had the legendary, 20-time Grand Slam champion looking increasingly more irritable and uncertain while losing the first set.

Also, Federer graciously conceded afterwards that after starting the match in an uncharacteristically lethargic manner, he became increasingly concerned until a break of service in the second set turned the proceedings in the inevitable direction almost everyone had expected.

But as often happens in tennis - and most other sports for that matter - the outcome can depend or rest heavily on one split-second moment of inspiration or an untimely and even needless error.

And in this instance Harris only surrendered his service and the initiative in that vital moment of the second set on a point he was dominating with flashy and well-placed groundstrokes - only to guide his final shot a matter of inches wide with Federer at his mercy.

For all that, the name Lloyd Harris is now imprinted on the international tennis map after taking to the court against his boyhood hero a relatively unknown 86th world-ranked player, with his temperament and talent for the occasion considered unknown factors.

Also to Harris' credit, he continued fighting to the bitter end in spite of being hampered in the later stages by a stifling calf injury - culminating in the praise and admiration heaped on him afterwards being well deserved.

As for Bafana, they squeezed into knockout stage of Africa's most prestigious soccer event as the last of the 16 qualifiers from the original field of 24 nations - and in the final reckoning it was not through any achievements of their own, but as one of four out of six third-placed group finishers.

And had hapless Angola not lost their final, nerve-tingling match 1-0 against group winners Mali and drawn instead, they would have qualified for the AFCON knockout stages instead of Bafana - with coach Stuart Baxter and his squad back in South Africa right now.

Instead, opportunity has landed in Bafana's lap with qualification into the last 16 stage after a tepid three pool matches in which they were deservedly beaten 1-0 by the Ivory Coast and Morocco - never mind the last-minute nature of the goal against the noticeably more clinical and astute Moroccans - and only accounted for a moderate and tiring Namibia by a similar 1-0 margin with a semblance of the standard required in the final 45 minutes.

It all manifested into a mere one goal in 270 minutes of soccer and not one truly notable scoring effort against either the Ivory Coast or Morocco.

And with something that can be regarded as a national pastime in South Africa, the blame game was in full swing before it was known whether Bafana would make the last 16 or not, with SAFA's hierarchy, coach Baxter and the players all savaged by both rational and irrational knives of criticism.

You have to point a finger at the players to some degree for their performances, while a vital factor in what has thus far been something of a debacle is surely the desultory manner in which SAFA failed to organise a systematic series of warm-up games for Bafana once it was known they had qualified for AFCON.

The outcome now is the awesome undertaking against home team and tournament favourites Egypt in Cairo on Saturday as a means to emerge with a degree of redemption.

A shock Bafana victory would send South Africans into raptures, forgetting for the moment the tournament is only at the halfway stage.

But if this not achieved, demonstrating the qualities Harris showed against Federer would go a long way in regaining a measure of respect, if not lessening the objective of seeking solutions for the malaise that seemingly continue to haunt South African soccer.

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