Bafana Bafana turn 20 with little to celebrate

06 Jul 2012 19:47:15

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South Africa ended decades in the football wilderness on July 7 1992 with a 1-0 victory over Cameroon and many starry-eyed supporters believed the national team would soon dominate the continent.

The nickname Bafana Bafana -- The Boys in isiZulu -- was also born on that wet night at Kings Park in Durban 20 years ago when Doctor Khumalo converted a late penalty against the Roger Milla-inspired 1990 World Cup quarter-finalists.

But two decades after returning from apartheid-induced isolation, South Africa have little cause for celebration as they are ranked only 14 in Africa by FIFA with Sierra Leone among those above them.

Sierra Leone football officials were locked out of their offices last month because of unpaid bills and forced to contact Europe-based national squad members from a Freetown internet cafe.

At the same time, South African Football Association (SAFA) officials were parking luxury German-made sedans outside palatial headquarters beside the 95,000-seat Soccer City national stadium.

While the lifestyles of those who run South African football are the envy of those from many African nations, Bafana Bafana is a source of embarrassment with a recent friendly win over Gabon halting an eight-match winless run.

Multi-award-winning journalist Matshelane Mamabolo of the Johannesburg Star attributes the failure of South Africa to become a dominant force in Africa to the disappearance of schools football.

"There used to be nationwide schools football every Wednesday and that is where the stars of the future were born. Now those who should be playing are hanging around street corners drinking alcohol and smoking," he told AFP.

"Winning the Cup of Nations four years after readmission was too soon -- we thought we were world beaters. The team of 1996 was exceptional, full of great players. Most of those wearing national colours today are a disgrace."

New Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund told reporters this week that "Bafana Bafana need to get back up there and be among the leading football nations in the world."

Durban-born Igesund, a 56-year-old pragmatist who has guided four clubs to the South African title, took over last month after Pitso Mosimane was fired following a 1-1 home draw with lowly Ethiopia in a 2014 World Cup qualifier.

Igesund has been given a two-year contract reportedly worth $62,500 -- half what Mosimane earned -- and told to get hosts South Africa to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals at least and the World Cup in Brazil a year later.

It is a tall order with the top teams bar Egypt and Ivory Coast or Senegal set to play at the Cup of Nations while Bafana Bafana have made a disastrous start to the World Cup campaign with draws against Ethiopia and Botswana.

The popular, silver-haired coach faces the same problem as many before him -- a lack of young talent coming through because national development has been largely ignored.

Tottenham midfielder Steven Pienaar is the only South African commanding a regular first-team place among the top European leagues and his performances for Bafana rarely match those at club level.

If winning the 1996 Cup of Nations and qualifying for the World Cup in 1998 and 2002 were Bafana highlights, failure to make the 2012 African finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea was the lowest of many low points.

Mosimane did not understand the qualification rules and told his team to play for a draw at home to Sierra Leone when they needed maximum points to prevent Niger snatching top place.

South African players danced and sang their way around the Mbombela Stadium pitch in Nelspruit after a 0-0 stalemate only to discover later that Bafana Bafana would miss a second consecutive Cup of Nations.

The lack of emerging talent has become so serious that Mosimane brought back 34-year-old South African Footballer of the Year and Moroka Swallows striker Siyabonga Nomvethe in a vain attempt to solve a scoring crisis.

There have also been pleas for another 34-year-old striker, Benni McCarthy of Orlando Pirates, to be recalled despite former national coach Ted Dumitru claiming the record Bafana Bafana scorer was 10 kilograms overweight.

A lack of top-class players and locals whose commitment is often questioned -- it adds up to a mammoth task for Igesund, whose reign begins with a September 7 friendly away to record five-time world champions Brazil.

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