Tuesday, June 08, 2010

32 For 2010: South Africa

One of the great disappointments of African football is that the South African nation have not been been able to produce a team to match the enormous passion that its people have for the game. However, the mere fact that the tournament itself is being held there is a victory for the Rainbow Nation, the continent of Africa and for football.

Of course this was all supposed to happen four years earlier. Were it it not for a maverick FIFA delegate from New Zealand voting against the wishes of his federation we'd be looking back on South Africa 2006 and its legacy. In many ways the timing of this tournament is poor what with the global recession. While the investment in the country's footballing infrastructure is impressive, had it taken place earlier in the decade there may have been more opportunities for investment in the game after the World Cup as opposed to now when confidence among potential corporate partners is low.

There are also concerns and criticisms about how much of the enormous income generated by the World Cup is not trickling down to its people. FIFA's notorious licencing restrictions have prevented local tradesman from exploiting the tournament and one has to wonder how much of the money is staying in the country rather than being funnelled to massive corporate sponsors such as Mastercard and Budweiser to name but two.

But this is not a time for off-pitch pessimism. Irrespective of how Bafana Bafana play, the South African public will support the World Cup in their own unique fashion. This is just as well as the prospects on the pitch are not terribly encouraging.

South Africa's hopes of qualification to the second round pretty much begin and end with Steven Pienaar. The Everton midfielder has been immense this season which is all the more impressive since few would have blamed him for taking his foot off the gas given the importance that the summer has both to him personally and his country. The team's other hero is Matthew Booth. To describe the burly centre half as agricultural is perhaps missing the point. Booth is a six-foot-something white man playing in a sport dominated by blacks and marginalised during Apartheid. The presence of the Mamelodi Sundowns player carries tremendous symbolic value in what is another step in the political reconciliation of a once violently divided nation.

Missing out is Benni McCarthy. South African team coach Carlos Alberto Perriera was never convinced of the West Ham striker's commitment to the team (he was left out of the squad for last year's Confederations Cup). And if rumours are to be believed, McCarthey's latest off the field exploits proved to be the last straw on the camel's back.

Portsmouth fans will point put the combative qualities of Aaron Makoena but apart from that there is very little to be positive about. South Africa play Mexico, France and Uruguay in their group. Technically, none of those teams are exactly world-beaters but Perreira's men will need to find a whole range of hitherto undiscovered gears in order to progress. Mind you, we must never underestimate the power of home advantage and the immense distraction of 60,000 vuvuzelas ringing in the ears of the opposition.

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