Cape Town – There was a fan with a massive yellow poster in the crowd during the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final between Bafana Bafana and Mali.
“WE BELIEVE” was emblazoned on it in bright green letters.
Unfortunately, I can’t exactly tell you what happened to that poster after Bafana fluffed their lines in the penalty shootout. But what that poster symbolised was a general feeling of hope and optimism, and it summed up the support the country had for the hosts.
It’s probably the first time since the golden period for football in this country – the 2009 Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup – that people have got behind the national team again.
Their performances certainly had a massive influence on the wave of support the team enjoyed. After a few tweaks in personnel and to the gameplan, following a stuttering performance against Cape Verde in the Africa Cup of Nations opener, Bafana actually looked like a team and a unit, something we haven’t quite seen in a long time.
There seems to be plenty of light at the end of the tunnel for the national team, especially as the South African Football Association’s bosses are considering giving Gordon Igesund the head coaching position up until the 2018 World Cup.
But while we are all still gutted about Bafana’s exit, what is Safa doing to develop the next generation of South African football stars?
The problem at the moment is that the country doesn’t have world-class players because of a lack of development structures at grassroots level.
There is this misperception that the PSL is a strong league, at a level where we can pick a competitive Bafana team made up of only locally-based players. But while the league is strong on the financial front, the quality has been poor over the last few years.
And it was no surprise that two of Bafana’s stars at the Africa Cup of Nations are based overseas, albeit the fact that they don’t quite feature in the top European leagues.
Dean Furman and May Mahlangu were outstanding since being given a chance in the second pool match against Angola, and it would have been even more special if the mercurial Thulani Serero was fit to join them in the middle.
All three are still young and will have great international careers.
Unfortunately, most South African footballers start to show potential only in their mid-20s and tend to peak in their late twenties and early 30s.
This is too late, as they would’ve found that their overseas boat has sailed already.
The facts that players developing so late in their careers has got a lot to do with the lack of specialised coaching at age-group levels. Many people have said we are the Brazil of Africa, with the amount of raw talent we have at our disposal. But, unlike the South American powerhouse, only a few players get scouted, while many others fall through the net.
Safa needs to invest in the next generation of players because, for all the heart and passion the current crop of Bafana players showed, they just aren’t good enough to compete with the rest of Africa, never mind the world.
Nigeria’s victory over Mali in the first semi-final on Wednesday should be a sober reminder of this.
Bafana made us “BELIEVE” for a brief moment last Saturday, and even warmed our souls with moments of breathtaking football, but the reality of the matter is not fiction. – Cape Times
TWEET OF THE WEEK
@VictorMoses (do you think the Chelsea and Nigeria winger is happy about how his side’s Afcon are going?): Absolutely buzzing amazing win bring on the final!!! #Nigeria
WHO TO FOLLOW
@TheRealAC3: Show some love to Ashley Cole, who played his 100th game for England against Brazil on Wednesday.