Crisis looms for SA soccer
Johannesburg - The failure of the SA junior soccer team to reach the playoffs of the COSAFA U-20 Championships this week has indicated that SA soccer is not yet out of its downward slope, and is heading into crisis.
Last week, the SA U-23 side - albeit with a depleted squad - crashed out of the final Olympic Games qualifying tournament in the group stages.
The future of the senior national squad rests with these two teams as Bafana Bafana gears up for the 2014 Soccer World Cup qualifying rounds.
Bafana themselves, however, have also stumbled this year, failing to progress beyond the group stages in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying competition after team management failed to interpret the rules correctly.
It was the second successive time the national side failed to reach the continental showpiece.
Having given a glimmer of hope after sharply rising in the FIFA rankings since last year's World Cup, Bafana have dropped back to 53rd in the world.
As numbers show, the current Bafana squad is a far cry from the outfit that won the 1996 African title and guided the nation into the World Cup finals for the first time.
Ten years ago, after the side reached their highest ranking of 16th, Bafana began to plummet.
By 2006 they had dropped to 94th - their lowest place in 11 years - after they failed to qualify for the World Cup and were dumped out the Africa Cup of Nations without scoring a goal.
The SA U-20 team at the turn of the century - led by skipper Matthew Booth, Siyabonga Nomvethe and star striker Benni McCarthy - also made significant steps, less than a decade after the country's return from isolation, qualifying for the global junior showpiece.
The U-23 squad reached the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and while they lost out in the group stages, they defeated a classy Brazilian side led by Ronaldinho.
Since then, however, all SA teams across the age group levels have struggled to hold their own in African competitions, despite the nation boasting the richest club league on the continent.
The country's football demise may be rooted in the SA Football Association's (SAFA) lack of commitment to coaching staff and its failure to ensure continuity.
Critically, however, the downfall seemed to have been triggered by the firing of former Bafana coach Clive Barker in December 1997 after the FIFA Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia.
Inexplicably, the SA juniors have had three coaches since Serame Letsoaka led them to the U-20 World Cup in 2009.
Shakes Mashaba's return to the SA U-23 team last year saw a rise in performance parallel to the success the squad had under him in 1999.
Unable to build the outfit he wanted for the Olympic qualifiers last week, though, meant his earlier hard work had all but gone to waste.
Safa will look to call an Indaba in the new year to get to the root of various concerns, including the thorny issue of poor development structures in the country.
Most of the money earned for hosting the 2010 World Cup - in the region of R600 Million - will be channeled into this structure.
As the association marks its 20th anniversary since readmission, it faces the same teething problems it encountered when the country entered the global football arena in 1992.
Going forward, the proposed Indaba will need to find answers to some burning questions as SAFA maps out a turnaround strategy in an effort to revive the achievements of the national team's golden era.