Bafana and the nation got carried away with the hype
AS we sift through the wreckage of a World Cup defeat to Uruguay, why are we looking to put the blame on someone (the referee in Carlos Alberto Parreira’s case) or something (the Jabulani ball)?
Bafana Bafana did wondrously well to ride the wave of emotion in the opening game against Mexico, but against Uruguay we all saw the Fifa world rankings don’t lie.
It’s understandable that so many got carried away with the hype. The draw against Mexico created false hopes among the experts and a belief that South Africa would reach the second round. But, all three Group A opponents operate in a higher stratosphere and it’s not with any degree of hindsight or glee that we should be reminded Bafana were always expected to prop up the pool.
Two games, against opponents ranked in the world’s top 20, have seen Bafana score one goal (a fabulous strike from Siphiwe Tshabalala) and concede four.
France will probably nudge up that tally next Tuesday, but South Africa have not been disgraced. Which is why the attitude of hundreds of fans leaving before the end of the game at Loftus Versfeld the other night stinks, and smacks of gross naivety. Yet, that can also be attributed to ridiculously lofty pre-tournament predictions.
“We in South Africa will not allow the trophy to leave the country again,” President Jacob Zuma said shortly before last week’s kick off, predicting a triumph over Brazil in the final. He was not joking. The ANC Youth League even released a statement saying, “Bafana have an unquestionable capacity to go up to the last stage of the World Cup,” while parliamentary sports figurehead Butana Komphela ordered the team “to win the World Cup… not just get to the final”.
As a country, South Africa can puff out their chest and stand proud. The players have punched above their weight, and some might even say have done more than expected of a team ranked 83rd in the world, but off the field is where the real impression has been made. Sure, the newly-laid pitches have created problems (high ball bounce and skiddy surfaces) but general society has embraced the event and will continue to do so once Bafana are eliminated and the tournament gets deep into the knockout stages.
From a footballing perspective, the biggest disappointment has been Steven Pienaar. South Africa’s best player simply hasn’t delivered and if Bafana Bafana were to have any chance of shocking the establishment, they’d have needed their little midfield maestro to pull the strings.
Yet, in both matches played thus far, Pienaar has been substituted, with cramp (against Mexico) and fatigue (against Uruguay) cited. The Everton player of the season admitted after Mexico that his “legs were a little tired. But… my mind and heart are behind Bafana, and I will fight hard. I aim to get more involved when we play Uruguay”. He didn’t.
It’s been argued that Pienaar is tired after playing 30 matches for Everton during the past season, but that has to be put into perspective against others at this World Cup. England’s John Terry, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney played 37, 36 and 32 League matches, respectively, while France’s Patrice Evra and Nicolas Anelka played 38 and 33 games, respectively And they are key figures in their country’s campaigns.
The game against France will, in all likelihood, be South Africa’s last under Parreira and now someone else must be tasked with building on the platform.
Pitso Mosimane looks to be that person, but when he does become national coach it must be with realistic expectations – and everyone, from the government, to fans, to media, must give him an extended chance to build a team capable of qualifying for 2014.