Durban - It’s been over two decades since Bafana Bafana earned their place at the biggest spectacle in all of sports, the 1998 World Cup in France. The names of all those that formed part of that tirumph are etched in the hearts of all who witnessed it.
Twenty-four years on and the AFCON is in full-swing (even broadcasted in the UK for the first time), but the Bafana squad of 22’ form part of the watching contingent, a feat that is to be repeated when the next world cup kicks-off.
The AFCON 96’ triumph and participation in the 98’ world cup were historical milestones for South African football, However, they have matured into treacherous and overcast burdens on today’s national team stars, a burden seemingly too heavy to carry.
The hopeful smiles of South African football fans have been ousted by continuous anxiety of when our flag will be regally flown with pride once more.
The most successful period in the nation’s history featured the perfect balance of the best local riches in talent with the experience and slightly advanced science induced performance of European based players. The leadership of then Kaizer Chiefs Captain, Neil Tovey supplemented by Leeds United’s Lucas Radebe in defence is just one of such partnerships.
In an age where Mamelodi Sundowns, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs are able to table lucrative financial deals for some of the country’s brightest sparks, it comes as no surprise that a move abroad isn’t snatched at appearance by youngsters today.
The importance of plying your trade in the best leagues in the world has always come at a risk if one considers the level of competition and distance between players and their families. A risk now many feel could be avoided with the relevant financial security provided by the ‘Big Three’.
The domino effect this has on the standards set at national team level cannot be stressed enough.
The level of tactical awareness and technical application coupled with the introduction of a far more advanced level of technology and nutrition deems Europe the breathing ground for the average future football talent. And if a bulk of Bafana’s core selections are set at local standards, we are a long way from re-establishing ourselves as a powerhouse on the African continent.
Comoros, an island of about 800 000 people recently dismantled a great powerhouse in the on-going AFCON showpiece, 90% of those donning the green of the Comoros are based in a variety of lower-leagues in France.
Although not as strong (far from it actually), the Les Coelacantes were able to go toe to toe with one of the most richly blessed on the continent in terms of talent, a feature I’m certain Coach Hugo Broos would appreciate in his set up as he looks to qualify for the 2023 AFCON.
The recent departure of Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Teboho Mokoena’s links with clubs in Belgium provide great hope for the nation but the real triumph would be for these players to lament their positions in Europe for 10+ years and provide the national team with a core worthy to take on the strongest in the continent.