Johannesburg - SA Football Association (Safa) chief executive Robin Petersen says Bafana Bafana need to be ranked among the top three nations in Africa if they want to be competitive at Fifa World Cups.
Petersen was speaking at the inaugural Sport Industry Summit in Johannesburg this week.
"We are under-performing, there is no doubt," Petersen said.
"We've set ourselves a goal. We've said Bafana Bafana needs to be in the top three in Africa and in the top 20 in the world.
"It would give us an outside chance then of performing really well at a World Cup."
The football association has in the past come under severe scrutiny over its lack of development structures.
Petersen, however, said Safa was making progress in addressing the issue.
"We are looking at new ways of funding the three million players, the 20 000 clubs and the 330 local football associations which are the base of our pyramid," he said.
A lack of structured soccer competition and development at school level, according to Petersen, was one of the reasons that development lagged in the popular sporting code.
"We do have schools football, but if you look at the facilities and you compare the structures, we are nowhere near," Petersen said.
"We have to do our development. I've been told by people in rugby, I think there are 26 schools that have produced every Springbok.
"That is in place. SA Rugby don't have to do it, it is self-funding, it's self-perpetuating.
"Then you have the university structures and so on. There is a built-in development pipeline which we don't have."
Petersen said there had been positive shifts with regards to traditional rugby and cricket schools placing impetus on soccer.
"What is exciting to see is how that is changing," he said.
"I mean, my old high school -- when I matriculated there in 1974 -- you could not play football.
"They now host the biggest schools football tournament in the country and so there is a shift."
One of South Africa's leading rugby schools and proponents of Springbok rugby players, Grey College in Bloemfontein, had also included soccer in their sports programme, Petersen said.
"I was at Grey College in Bloemfontein and they have a fantastic football festival and the kids that come into the school can choose between football and rugby," Petersen said.
"Things are changing when schools like Grey are involved. A lot of private schools with the resources are also starting to invest in football."
He said it only made sense that schools in the country invested in growing the game, as anyone could play football.
"If you don't want to play rugby, you can play football, and that should be given equal attention with our schools that have resources.
"I think then we will see the talent this country has."
Petersen said the up side was that players who traditionally played rugby but opted for soccer would add a different dimension to the sport.
"When people say that South Africa's demographics of players are smaller it is because we only tap into one demographic," he said.
"If we can get some of these guys that play wing for the Springboks to play soccer with that speed, that pace and agility, I think we can really transform it."