CAPE TOWN – If there’s one thing to take from the 2018 World Cup in Russia, it’s the fact that smaller teams, smaller countries, have technically and tactically closed the gap.
In essence, the world’s best football sides have to make sure they are fully focused, fully prepared and motivated to the hilt if they wish to come away with a victory. And, as we saw at Russia 2018, there were so many admirable, respectable performances from ostensible minnows such as Japan, South Korea, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The message shining through is clear: underestimate an opponent at your own peril.
In everything, there is a lesson. While Bafana Bafana’s players would have been glued to their television sets watching the football at Russia 2018 a few months ago, hopefully they have also taken to heart what they saw.
Because, especially for Bafana, there is valuable learning potential in what transpired at the World Cup. Call it the curse of complacency, if you will - and head coach Stuart Baxter often alludes to it. The South African football mentality is such that it can go to Nigeria and beat such a much-vaunted side in their own backyard - but then, afterwards, slump to the depths of mediocrity against Cape Verde.
Essentially, the problem is not in the feet, it’s in the head.
Now, as Bafana swing back into action on Saturday in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying tie against Libya in Durban, it is again not their ability that is in question, it’s their attitude. Will they be able to break free from the shackles of complacency and face each and every opponent with the same fervour and commitment?
There is no doubt that, with the talent, resources and infrastructural capacity available, Bafana should be doing far better. The reasons for the lack of progress are many and varied - and have been debated and discussed ad nauseam - but, with a place at Cameroon 2019 at stake, there can be no room for failure: the stain of being unable to qualify for major events has to be erased.
And the best way to approach the task, to take a leaf from Russia 2018, is to hurl complacency out of the window; because there are no longer any small teams in international football.