Things may get even better. Bafana Bafana could yet qualify for the African Cup of Nations – long odds, to be sure, with a nasty match lined up against Libya – but even if they don’t, there’s always the back door. SA may host the event after Cameroon was stripped of hosting rights late last year.
Three vastly different dynamics will define our World Cup ambitions.
In the first instance, history and its attendant hardships have hung off the Proteas like a millstone and they will venture to England and Wales with modest expectations.
So accustomed are we to their routine failure, generally cloaked in chaos and catastrophe, that we daren’t talk up their chances. They will travel well prepared and with a match winner or three, but the last thing the Proteas need is to be bogged down by the weight of our collective pressure. So, don’t expect.
Forty-five matches in the group stages will probably leave us cross-eyed, but the one to diarise is the very first, on May 30, when England host the Proteas.
SA’s chances won’t hinge on this fixture, but the result will set the mood and the tone for the remainder of the tournament.
Ten teams will duke it out, and it is to cricket’s credit that all but Afghanistan or Bangladesh could win the thing. Expect several banana peels along the way.
And so to France and the eighth Women’s World Cup.
Banyana will be earnest battlers, the second-lowest seeded team with little to no hope in a group that includes powerhouses Germany (seeded two), and Spain (12) and China (15). If getting to France is half the adventure, the other will be to play with courage and verve.
Any lessons learned will be valuable. Patronising them will do no good; they’ve already done marvellous work in helping elevate local women’s sport. Sometimes they even make the back pages.
The Springboks will travel to Japan with every member of the squad convinced they can reclaim the Webb Ellis Cup. They’ve beaten the major teams in the past two years and are building towards a crescendo with canny Rassie Erasmus pulling the strings.
Getting there three weeks early and throwing in a warm-up game against Japan offers a big advantage. For now, circle September 21 in red.
That’s the day the Boks play the All Blacks in their opener in Yokohama. From there, it’s a breeze to the semi-finals with Scotland the likeliest quarter-final opponent.
A first-up loss, however, would propel the Springboks into a quarterfinal shootout with Ireland. One of SA, Ireland or New Zealand won’t crack the final four.
Twenty teams are in the hunt and the coming edition will be the most open yet with the exotic Asian backdrop offering a suitable air of mystery and mysticism.
There’s much more besides, including a netball World Cup and the swimming and athletics world championships; a veritable feast for fans.
As ever, we’ll all be in thrall to what awaits in 2019 – inevitably tears mixed among the triumphs.@ClintonV