There’s been enough said and written about getting behind our national team despite poor recent results. Not withstanding a brave showing against some of the worlds best during the Confederations Cup, Bafana Bafana’s “recent” poor form stretches years and is not a new development that some suggest. With less than 250 days left till the opening match of our World Cup the time is fast approaching, if we haven’t already past it, where decisions have to be made regarding Joel Santana. Love him or hate him at some point the entire country needs to put their feelings aside and collectively get behind Bafana Bafana. They need it and so do we.
Santana says he has a blue print for success and that Bafana Bafana are on course to get past the group stage, something that no host nation has failed to do and must be the least of our expectations, but I feel that he fails to see a fundamental point that he has not entered into his blue print – this World Cup is bigger then him. All World Cups are big events, the most important in the sport at any time, but this World Cup is the biggest of all time, because it’s Africa’s World Cup.
For so long Africa has been ignored and looked down upon by the football world, and now we have a chance to make up for the past indifference and show the world that we belong, that we should be taken seriously, that there is nothing that Europe, the America’s and Asia can do that we can’t. This won’t be a good, or even a great, World Cup, but will be the best World Cup. Not just the best that Africa can produce but the best the world has. In order for it to be just that we need a strong showing from our national time. For this to happen we don’t just need a well prepared, conditioned, and tactically aware team, but our best team. With all of our best players.
Here is where Santana may be missing the point. If this were any other team at any other time we’d have to agree with any choices he made for whatever reason. He is the coach and it is his team. But this is not any team at any moment in time; this is the host country in Africa’s World Cup. For reasons that are open to more conjecture than fact Nasief Morris and Benni McCarthy both seem to not be in Santana’s plans. Whatever has gone on behind the scenes needs to be sorted out quickly to bring these two back into the fold. Morris has been in superb form in La Liga but apparently being at the top of your game in one of the best leagues in the world is not good enough for Santana. Booth and Mokoena were solid in the ConFed Cup but Morris would walk into this team, and equally as important, depth is needed in the Bafana Squad. A top class player of Morris ability has got to be brought back into the team and Santana needs to take steps to make this happen sooner rather than later. The situation with Benni is not as clear cut. Benni does not have the best of reputations in South Africa because of his constant withdrawal from Bafana squads, seemingly only making himself available when he feels like playing. That is how the story has come across in South Africa and perhaps it is unfair on Benni, with the real reasons not coming out. An argument has been made of the long journeys that African players in Europe need to make in order to play in matches for their countries, and one can sympathise with Benni on his lack of enthusiasm in this regard, with the travelling taking a lot out of him physically and mentally and putting his club position for the following weekend in jeopardy. But the likes of Drogba and Essien don’t shy away from the responsibility of representing their countries, likewise the South American players. However as I have said before this World Cup is bigger than all of us and ill feelings have to be put aside for the best of the country and Africa, and this means getting Bafana Bafana past the group stages. What the past few games, stretching back to the ConFed Cup performances have shown is that Bafana can compete with the best in the world but lack the cutting edge in front of goal. The difference between Bafana and Spain, Brazil, Germany and Ireland has been chances taken. This was no more evident than against Ireland where Bafana enjoyed the majority of possession but failed to create any real chances. When these chances come they need to be taken. Bafana’s record goal scorer, Benni, is the man they need in the penalty area. Mphela and Parker have shown promise but they can not carry the burden of an entire continent on their shoulders. They need support. Benni needs to be recalled and needs to get fit and in shape to help his country out. Santana needs to swallow his pride for the betterment of the team, and to save his job. A Bafana team with a talented young keeper in Kune, a solid centre back pairing of Mokoena, Morris and Booth when needed, two stylish full backs in Gaxa and Masilela, controlled by a very exiting midfield of Pienaar, Modise and holding men like Mhlongo, Dikgacoi and Sibaya, creating chances for Benni, Parker and Mphela, is one that can do South Africa proud. They still have Tshabalala, van Heerden and others to call upon too. This Bafana squad is one that should be expected to do better than six loses in a row that should have been Santana’s wake up call. And they need to.
So we all need to get behind Bafana Bafana and ensure that they have our support and belief to carry them forward. Santana needs to come to the party to make us believe. This World Cup is the most important in football history and we need to ensure that Africa gets the respect and dignity that we deserve. For this we also need to support our African brothers who will be competing, be it Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt or Nigeria. No African country has made the semi finals of a World Cup. This time, on African soil we need Africa to be represented as best they can and hope that a strong showing gets more than the usual one team through to the next round. An African team in the semi finals or finals would be fitting for this World Cup. Let’s hope it’s Bafana Bafana, but if not, we’ll support any of the African teams that make it through. They need our faith and we need theirs.