Nation hopes for dream outing

Published on 13/06/2009

By Robin Toskin in pretoria

Once South African won the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations, many in the rainbow nation and indeed the continent had hoped it would be the beginning of a period of dominance.

Yet just a little over a decade, Africa’s largest economy is struggling to have a footing in the continent’s football map.

Not even the fact they will be hosting 2010 World Cup raises hope of a second round showing.

Even as they try to build a team capable of competing at the global level, coach Joel Santana’s job is not that easy.

The Brazilian coach was forced to make hard decision to drop Blackburn’s Benni McCarthy and Recreativo Huelva defender, Nasief Morris.

The two have been accused of egocentricity and McCarthy in particular is loathed for choosing international matches he would like to appear in.

Piling pressure

Santana dropped Morris who played every Primera Liga match for the relegated Huelva on disciplinary grounds.

Fans have been piling pressure on Santana to rescind the axing of Morris but he has stuck to his guns.

So, when the South Africans open the doors tomorrow for the 2009 Confederations Cup, pressure will be on Bafana Bafana to reassure fans there will be everything to play for when the World Cup kicks off next mid next year. South Africa kick off their fixtures tomorrow against Asian champions Iraq.

Unlike the recognizable side that boasted stars such as former Leeds United defender Lucas Radebe, Doctor Khumalo, Shaun Bartlett and others, the current crop of players pale in the shadows of the yester team.

Blackburn defender Aaron Mokoena and Everton’s midfielder Steven Pienaar are the leading lights of a team considered short of genuine talent to compete against the world’s football powerhouses.

The hallmark of South Africa’s poor show has been blamed on constant changes in the coaching department.

Radebe told BBC in a recent interview: “The 1996 Nations Cup should have been the platform for us to take off but the focus was only at the top, which was very wrong.”

“We never started at grassroots level and built from there to achieve progress, which has led to the decline of our football and it has hit us hard.

“You need to have a 10-year plan and then work on your goals according to that structure — that’s how you achieve success, but we never did it.”

Radebe’s sentiments would sums up the frustration occasioned by South Africa’s failure to develop their game.

However, his sentiments will count for water under the bridge as time waits for no man. South Africa goes into Fifa’s two glamorous tournaments having been eliminated from the continental showpiece, Angola 2010.

Bafana beat Poland 1-0 in their final build up match before Confederations Cup, but the win has not erased the disappointment of failing to qualify for Angola 2010.

South Africa were abject in the second round qualifiers in which they lost 1-0 away to Sierra Leone. A home and away loss to Nigeria was the low point of this ambitious country.

South Africa may not find group stages difficult Spain being the only other team that can trouble them in Group A that also has New Zealand and Iraq.

The Kiwis may not be the pushovers though if their display in the 4-3 loss to Italy in Pretoria on Wednesday is anything to go by.

In Chris Killen and Shane Smeltz New Zealand have two tall and powerful strikers who could wreak havoc on the Bafana.

Killen and Smeltz troubled the Italian defence on Wednesday and the fact they scored three goals against the World champions is testimony they can serve up some shock results.

Mokoena, who has just switched from Blackburn to Portsmouth, along with Panathinaikos (Greece) man, Bryce Moon, and perhaps Sundown’s Matthew Booth are the only well known defenders in the team.

Santana’s selection of Orlando Pirates’ Innocent Mdledle has not gone down

well with a section of fans who think he has not played competitively over

the past months.

Santana hopes Everton’s Steven Pienaar would transfer his club form to the

national team.

Pienaar has enjoyed a good spell at Everton, helping the Merseyside club to

the FA Cup finals during which they beat Manchester united.

He will be backed by Kazan Rubin’s MacBeth Sibaya who though has failed to

live up to his earlier promise.

In Elrio van Heerden (Portsmouth) and Teko Modise (Pirates) South Africa

boasts two exciting midfielders.

In the absence of self exiled McCarthy, Thembikosi ‘Terror’ Fanteni holds

the mantle of goal poaching.

Katlego Mashego and Bernard Parker and Katlego Mphela are the other options

Santana has at his disposal for Confederations Cup.

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