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Can Bafana live up to World Cup host team billing?

By Mark Gleeson
September 19, 2008

blatter_khoza.jpgThere were the predictable platitudes from Sepp Blatter in South Africa this week, expressing satisfaction with the pace of construction of the country’s top stadia ahead of its hosting if the 2010 World Cup finals.

But there was little Swiss diplomacy on display from the FIFA president when dealing with the issue of the country’s national team, Bafana Bafana, whose rapid decline over the last years is now a major source of concern.

For FIFA, the World Cup has become a massive revenue-generating property. Over 80 percent of their considerable income is from sponsors of the tournament. The event has become the world’ biggest party or, as Blatter insisted on his four-day trip to Johannesburg and Cape Town, “the only event that transcends people and politics”. 

Luckily, recent World Cup hosts have produced competitive teams, even when the event went to Asia for the first time in 2002. Then South Korea got to the semifinals and, in the process, created one of the largest street parties ever seen.

Germany in 2006 turned into a massive fiesta because of the momentum that came with the march of their team to the semifinals, a euphoria whipped up steadily over a month that culminated with some incredible scenes in Berlin. Germany’s position in the heart of Europe also allowed easy access for fans of England, France and Italy, who also contributed considerably to the party atmosphere.

To keep drawing in the sponsors, FIFA needs to recreate much of the atmosphere every four years but a lot is dependent on the local conditions.
With South Africa they haven taken a major risk. While Blatter’s dreams of a philanthropic legacy (and possible Nobel Peace Prize) are given great credence by his entrusting a first ever World Cup to Africa, this will be a much different tournament for two, possibly three, reasons: The weather, the distance and, maybe, the home team.bafana_action.jpg

First, it will be a winter World Cup in South Africa, the first since Argentina 1978, with less opportunity for gay inner city abandon that marked the glorious summer days of Germany in 2006. While those in the northern hemisphere would regard a South African winter as mild, it is nevertheless not tepid enough to be conducive for mass outdoor celebrations.

Germany’s proximity to many of the qualified countries also meant an estimated total of almost 2-million visitors came across its borders to be part of the footballing fiesta, the vast majority without tickets but still able to party in city squares and at fan parks and be part of the ‘World Cup experience’.
As a long haul destination, South Africa estimates it will receive just 300 000 visitors. The cost of travel to the country is expensive (although once inside remarkably cheap by international standards). 

And, as Blatter noted, there are not enough hotel beds. FIFA says it needs some 50,000; local tallies are put at more than 35,000, a significant shortfall.
Plus as people tighten their purse strings in a time of economic turmoil, a more well heeled audience is expected rather than the raucous fans that are responsible for much of the World Cup merriment.

bafana_huddle.jpgBut both the weather and lack of visitors can be overcome if World Cup fever sweeps up the local population. For that you need a competitive home team.
But, as Blatter pointed out, South Africa’s side has been “disappointing”. Embarrassing, indeed, with their failure to get past the first phase of qualification for the 2010 African Nations Cup finals.
Blatter talked about the poor state of the side on all the days he was in the country, highlighting FIFA’s nervousness that their World Cup is in imminent danger of turning into the biggest flop since Guy Ritchie’s last film.
  “It is high noon for Bafana Bafana,” he dramatically claimed at one of his press conferences. “You have to move and move now,” he told local officials at another function.
Bafana Bafana have never been under this kind of pressure before and while they have well paid Brazilian coaches and a growing list of foreign-based players to pick from, they seem to be unable to show any signs of life.
Perhaps it is a temporary setback in much the same way Jurgen Klinsmann was vilified in Germany as pre-World Cup results for his side rarely satisfied the pundits.
But whatever the case, it was all too evident from Blatter this week that FIFA is deeply concerned. Unlike bricks and mortar, hotel beds or buses, it is not a problem with a ready solution.


I was in Japan recently I was shocked how the “soccer bug” had disappeared post-2002. No one playing on the streets, very little mention in the shops. Hopefully the opposite will happen in South Africa exactly because expectation is so low. It was high in japan and their performance was not as good as S Korea and everyone was deflated. The only way is up for Bafana.

Posted by Mark Meadows | Report as abusive

That really is an incredible lack of diplomacy on Blatter’s part. You have no right to ask anyone to perform above their limits just to fit your bill. The other thing is, South African fans will support all African nations in the tournament even if Bafana make an early exit. I lived in Africa for seven years so I know a thing or two about their mentality.


Living in Africa for seven years does not qualify Red Devil to be any kind of expert on Africa. I have lived here all my 60 odd years and yet to understand the way an African mind works. The problem with Bafana Bafana is that they are too arrogant. They have these tournaments were Man United “come out” to play South African local teams during their off season. When the teams draw or beat these oveseas teams so much is made of it as if our standards are that high that local teams can hold off the best of the British Premier League. As if these teams are really trying. Whether it is intended or not, very little is shown of local soccer crowd support which is abysmally low and I fear the same will happen when Bafana are knocked out in the first round of 2010. All round a very expensive gamble.

Posted by Gerald Buttigieg | Report as abusive

@Gerald: Well, perhaps we lived in different parts of Africa. Ghana and Kenya are the exact opposite of South Africa in terms of local support and I know for a fact these nations supported other Afrixan teams in World Cups. Also, in spite of yr 60 odd years in Africa, I may understand the African mind a little better than you mate because their mentality is strikingly similar to that of the Balkans, which is where I come from. It seems to me South Africa is an exception to the rule but that’s where the World Cup will be held so at the end of the day you may well be right in your predicitions. Still, I think the world’sbest players will pull the crowds even after Bafana crash out.


Gerald, you can’t learn anything you havent in 60 odd or even even years. Am African, from Kenya and if you saw the partying after Cameroon sank, Argie, or Nigeria in US 94 or Even Senegal downing France and Sweden you got another one coming. Africans love Football, more so we in Kenya and sub Sahara in General. Red Devil you are spot on but for the Name! You’ll Never Walk Alone

Posted by warigia | Report as abusive

I suggest that Santana puts forward a team with speed and skill. Most of our defenders especially central, are slow like morris and Mokoena. I am looking forward to the return of Brice Moon, Masilela, Evans and Diktacoi in regular action. In our strike force, let bring wingers with speed. Mabalane of Pirates, F Cale of Ajax they can do far better for us. Lastly I am not happpy with Modise playing wide and not centre of the field, please review the inclusion of Davies in the national team. SA has quality players the matter is putting them together, good luck.

Posted by Sihle Dladla | Report as abusive

I want to say this to South Africans, all you need is to support your team. The thing here is, Bafana has only one major reward which is Afcon 1996. All those players who played there are staying homeand not part of the soccer house of South Africa. We have only one team that has won the Champions League in South Africa, all respect to “Mighty Bucs” but once. Our soccer house is full of man who are there on business, sharing millions to each other while we are whatching. Successful couches with bafana have been thrown away, likes of Clive Barker, Jomo Sono and Carlos A Parreira. Please do not expect meracles, the team we have is slow with old machines. Morris, Sibaya, McCarthy and Mokoena will be are expired as we speak. Anyway Goodluck Bafana Bafana.

Posted by Sihle Dladla | Report as abusive

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