WANTED: SA soccer's saviour
Sport24 columnist S'Busiso Mseleku (File)
When South Africa was accepted into the global football body in 1992, after the formation of a unified soccer body - the South African Football Association (SAFA) - the country started well on the international front.
There was great euphoria following a drawn series with Cameroon that had dream start when Doctor Khumalo slotted an 82nd minute penalty to give Bafana Bafana a 1-0 victory in the first international match at Durban’s King’s Park Stadium on a cold and windy July night.
The following 1-0 win by the visitors in Cape Town and a 2-all stalemate at the FNB Stadium meant the series ended in a tie that sent the country into serious delusions of grandeur.
The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon were the toast of the continent following their heroics at the 1990 Soccer World Cup in Italy where they became the first African country to reach the quarter-finals, only to be beaten narrowly by England.
But what followed was a disaster.
With pumped up chests, we went to Zimbabwe - a country South Africa had walloped 7-2 the last time they met during the days of apartheid - and we were given a 4-1 pasting in an African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier in August 1992.
Losses to Nigeria in October of the same year by a 4-0 margin, one of the results that ensured South Africa didn't qualify for the 1994 AFCON tournament and the World Cup in the USA in the same year, plus another 4-0 beating by Mexico in October 1993, led to the team being given a ridiculous moniker “4x4”.
One of the most touching pictures of that time was that of Solomon “Stix” Morewa sitting at the edge of the pitch at FNB Stadium, weeping, white handkerchief in hand after Bafana had lost to Zambia ensuring that they were not going to be one of the 12 countries in Tunisia for the AFCON nor those in the USA for the World Cup.
Morewa went back to the proverbial drawing board and after extensive consultation he roped in Clive Barker as national coach. Barker started a rebuilding process to re-install the lost confidence in the dejected players.
When South Africa came in as late substitutes to host the 1996 AFCON, another genius move by Morewa was to get Premier Foods to sponsor a Four Nations Tournament.
This was to prepare Bafana Bafana for the AFCON as they were no longer involved in the playoffs as the host nation.
The tournament was played in the similar round-robin format that is used in the first phase of the AFCON finals and the World Cup which further helped prepare the team for the tournament.
It is now history that Bafana Bafana won the tournament, beating Tunisia 2-0 in the final having disposed of the likes of Egypt and Ghana along the way.
They also climbed the rankings from No 95 in the world where they started in 1993, to 19th in 1996 and No 1 in Africa.
To this date, these remain the highest rankings Bafana Bafana have ever achieved.
Today, they are No 68 in the world and 15th on the continent.
Despite South Africa’s failure to reach the World Cup finals, Morewa led a delegation to the event and afterwards wrote a letter to FIFA enquiring about the procedure that must be followed should a country wish to host the World Cup.
His dream was fulfilled in 2010 when South Africa hosted a successful World Cup.
As Bafana Bafana lay in tatters and the staff morale is said to be at its lowest ebb, South African soccer need another Morewa-like visionary.
SA soccer needs somebody who will take it with the scruff of its neck, vigorously shake it from its slumber, drag it kicking and screaming from its current quagmire and take it to the next level.
A country like South Africa deserves better.
A strong individual with a strong character who will not carry favour but will do everything for the betterment of football, is needed.
With all the infrastructure we have, the millions from the World Cup and the abundant talent spread over a population of over 50 million, we should not be drawing with countries like Botswana whose population is just over two million people.
Is there such an individual? Surely there must be at least one...S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.
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