De­mand more from Bafana to get the best out of soc­cer

Pretoria News Weekend - - OPINION - GASANT ABARDER

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.

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