Demand more from Bafana to get the best out of soccer
THE greatest show on earth is here: the Fifa World Cup 2018 in Russia. Can you feel it? Erm, ja, not so much here at home, because Bafana Bafana are not among the countries playing.
This is familiar terrain. In the days when our national team was excluded because of sporting isolation my friends and I chose other nations to back during the World Cup.
My love affair started with Italia ’90. It was the World Cup of West Germany’s Lothar Matthäus, Jürgen Klinsmann and Andreas Brehme.
They beat defending champions Argentina and broke Diego Maradona’s heart. Italy’s Salvatore “Totò” Schillaci stole the show as the top scorer.
We didn’t wait long for Bafana Bafana to make the big time. In 1996 Bafana lifted the African Cup of Nations trophy on home soil. This was it. A taste of things to come. A year later I joined my then-news editor at The Star, Mondli Makhanya, for a trip to Soccer City and the World Cup qualifier against Congo Brazzaville.
It was an afternoon of magic. Mondli had me singing a song with some naughty lyrics all the way to the stands. I didn’t know what they meant until he told me after that memorable match, where a thunderous Phil Masinga strike took us to our first World Cup, France ’98. Cue “Benni’s in the 18-area” and TKZee. Siyaya Bafana!
That afternoon my roller-coaster rides with Bafana began. A few ups, but mostly downs. I’ve been to see my beloved Manchester United lift an FA Cup trophy at Wembley Stadium. I’ve witnessed four magnificent matches at the Cape Town Stadium during our own World Cup, including a quarter-final where Argentina, this time coached by Diego Maradona, were trounced by Germany.
Earlier in that 2010 tournament we cheered our Bafana heroes. We didn’t make it out of our group but we held our heads high.
Cue Make the Circle Bigger and Waka Waka!
None of that, however, compares to the euphoria I experienced at Soccer City. The pungent fumes of dagga in the stands, the deafening roar that greeted Masinga’s goal, my eyes darting anxiously to that front row of spectators who looked like they might fall into the moat separating the stands from the field at any time.
But it was a promise unfulfilled. There is no Bafana Bafana at Russia 2018. It is a bitter pill to swallow.
The tournament will be no less exciting. Most teams have squads worthy of challenging for football’s greatest prize.
I’m hoping it will be Africa’s time to make history. But it still feels hollow; Bafana isn’t there.
We’re a competitive sporting nation and there have been tremendous strides since readmission to international sport. I dreamt of the day South Africa would dominate on the track and that time is now. We’ve been fantastic in the pool. Our rugby team has won two world cups and the Bokke are back on track. Our cricket boys never let us down for too long (although they’re due a world cup win of their own).
But Bafana? We’re happy to make concessions. We celebrate harder than we should when Bafana win the consolation prize at the Cosafa Cup.
I despair when the PSL’s top goalscorer nets only 11 times in a season. That is well below par.
The Beautiful Game is the most accessible sport and those who excel at it often have very little. All you need is a ball, an empty patch of land and a bit of imagination to re-enact the great football encounters of history. It’s not like we don’t have the talent. I’ve been to enough Saturday afternoon matches at William Herbert and Bayhill tournaments to know this.
It’s time Bafana was held to a higher standard. We demand qualification for Qatar 2022 and triumph in the next Afcon. Nothing less. Only then will my South African heart be full.
●Abarder is a former newspaper editor and communications professional. He writes in his personal capacity.