Mark Gleeson

Bafana future at crossroads

2011-10-03 08:45
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
Mark Gleeson
There have been several crucial afternoons already for Bafana Bafana in the team’s relatively short history.

The sensational day in 1997 when a win over Congo ensured a first ever Soccer World Cup trip for South Africa is one that springs to mind.

Or the torment of the game against Ghana at Soccer City in 2005 when Bafana needed only draw but lost out to Michael Essien and friends, to miss out on the finals in Germany.

Then there was defeat by Nigeria in Port Elizabeth, despite near total dominance of the game, which meant early elimination in the 2010 African Nations Cup campaign.

Saturday in Nelspruit is another watershed afternoon, arguably even more important than the previous games. Bafana Bafana must beat Sierra Leone and qualify for the 2012 continental championships.

Not just because of Nations Cup qualification but because South Africa’s footballing future is at a crucial juncture.

It is crucial because the country’s footballing community has now passed its point of learning, recognition and assistance.

The focus of FIFA, its wealth of assistance and the sympathetic attention of the world has gone with the 2010 World Cup and South African football will never again enjoy as exalted place and the material, financial and knowledge profit that comes from hosting a tournament of the significance of the world’s four-yearly soccer showpiece.

Government will never again open its coffers as it did to create a significant footballing infrastructure and renovate and restore and pay for brilliant pitches that have greatly assisted in a better standard for the domestic game.

South African football has been taken to the table and been fed a good supper. Now it is fat and rich but on its own.

It needs not only to keep up a high standard of administration and look after the new infrastructure but also to succeed on the field. To come out of the hosting of the World Cup and then fail to qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup is patently a disaster.

There can be no excuses anymore. A country of South Africa’s resources and means must consistently be in the top five in African football. There are top coaches at league level, academies dotted around the country to identify young talent and a keen following for the game. Even more importantly soccer is awash with sponsorship and television money.

So to lose out to a Sierra Leone, or perhaps Niger (if they beat Egypt), and not qualify for the Nations Cup finals, sets the whole footballing scene back enormously.

It will again led to a perception that South African soccer is ‘Mickey Mouse’ game, full of smartly-dressed talkers and posers but few actually able to produce positively. It return the game to a spiral of mediocrity that beset its progress before the fillip of hosting the 2010 World Cup finals.

The players on the field at Mbombela Stadium on Saturday a massive responsibility to produce a winning performance and keep up the momentum of the last few years.

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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