World Cup could fall flat if South Africa carry on losing
South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup is supposed to be a watershed for the world game and the African continent, an opportunity to emphasise the international flavour of the game and at the same time give an under privileged continent a chance to prove its potential and bask in the world spotlight.
To that end South Africa is a flurry of construction as new stadiums go up along with hotels, rail and road projects and a myriad of other infrastructure improvements.
But the most important building project should be the country’s football team, who have been to two previous World Cups but have never shown the ability to be truly considered among Africa’s real soccer superpowers.
South Africa won the African Nations Cup 12 years ago, when they hosted the tournament, reached the final two years later and were third in 2000. But it has been a downhill spiral ever since and on Saturday the team were effectively eliminated from the qualifiers for the 2010 Nations Cup finals in Angola.
A home loss to Nigeria left Bafana Bafana with four points from five matches in their group and all but mathematically out of contention. It will end a run of appearances at seven successive Nations Cup tournaments.
It is a massive embarrassment for the country that in the year in which they host the World Cup, they will not be among the 16 best African sides in the Nations Cup fields.
Even with the best organisation in the world, the finest stadiums and cheapest beer, the 2010 finals are in stark danger of falling flat unless there is some sort of performance from the home side.
Just as the Germans created a tidal wave of euphoria as they progressed to the semi-finals in 2006, so South Africa’s side have a responsibility to at least get past the first round and ensure the kind of party we’ve been getting used to at World Cups.
But on the basis of current form, there is little chance of that happening. South Africa actually outplayed Nigeria on Saturday but as the Super Eagles coach Shaibu Amodu put it afterwards: “You don’t win games on the amount of ball possession you enjoy.”
In the same vein, you don’t host successful World Cups unless you have a decent team in the competition as well.
PHOTO: South Africa fans react during their Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Sierra Leone in Attridgeville, outside Pretoria June 21, 2008. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko