Progress in positioning South Africa as a credible host for the 2010 World Cup finals has been slow.
The country has had to deal with much skepticism about its ability to organise a massive logistical operation, build the right infrastructure, and move hundreds of thousands of spectators around.
But as the kick-off for the finals draws closer, it is not the organisation that is being questioned, but rather the team South Africa will send out to compete.
As hosts, Bafana Bafana are the only side guaranteed an automatic berth in the 32-side line-up, so theoretically they have been qualified for the World Cup since May 2004. That is six years of potential focus preparation, time enough, one would venture, to establish the side into something of a force to be reckoned with.
Yet with the tournament some 450 days away, the latest evidence is of a lacklustre, ill-prepared and uninspiring team.
Indeed two matches in recent weeks against credible opposition suggest the hoped-for boost and hype that the 2010 World Cup sought to get from a competent local side is unlikely.
Just one year into the tenure of coach Joel Santana and all has quickly evolved into the mediocre, with his team looking disorganised, tactically undisciplined and having lost their verve and desire to keep the ball moving.
Santana is already on the back foot with some imaginative excuses. After the loss to Chile in February he offered the explanation that he knew the team were going to lose; after the 2-0 defeat by Portugal he suggested bulking up the players because their size was compatible with being competitive in international football.
These are insights into a cluttered mind. What Bafana Bafana needs is clear, lucid thinking and inspiring leadership.
Santana’s predecessor, Carlos Alberto Parreira, didn’t have too many positive results either, but he did inspire great respect and by the time he departed seemed to have the team headed in the eight direction. It was such a pity to lose him.
Santana promised to keep up his work but obviously does not have the same resonance. He looks more like a coach whose priority is not to lose so as to protect his own position rather than a man with a proper plan for 2010.
Remember, South Africa are now in a phase of friendlies against European and South American opposition that is supposed to expose their players to tougher competition. So why did Santana not play more of his squad players in the two matches against Norway and Portugal, persisting, for example, with Itumeleng Khune over two matches, when palpably he needs to be looking at goalkeeping alternatives. And that is just one department on the field that needs fixing.
The Bafana Bafana coach has apparently already made his final selection for the Confederations Cup and is a great believer in a ‘family’ atmosphere around his team, seeing himself as a father figure.
But Bafana Bafana don’t need a Daddy; they need a general with a plan who is going to inspire them play to the best of the ability.
Unless Santana steps up and assumes that role, this is a team that is going nowhere.
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