EVERY month footballunited.com will count down to the 2010 World Cup with an in depth look at a nation or group of nations vying to grab a place in the greatest show on earth.
Only one country seems an appropriate place to start our journey – South Africa.
The stadiums are nearing completion and the host provinces are on the cusp of the most exciting chapter in South Africa’s football history.
But exactly what host team will greet the football world on June 11, 2010 remains a mystery. Will South Africa, or Bafana Bafana as they are commonly known on the football circuit, follow in the triumphant footsteps of South Korea in 2002, or trudge along the “early exit” path dug by both Austria and Switzerland last summer?
I’m loathed to predict the latter, but that’s where the evidence is fully weighted. While South Africa’s international rugby and cricket teams conquer all before them, their football counterparts have struggled to make headway.
They have already failed to qualify for next year’s African Cup of Nations – a tournament they haven’t impressed in since a quarter final appearance in 2002 – having finished below Nigeria and Sierra Leone in the qualifying stages. (In fact, Joel Santana’s side hold the unwanted record of having failed to qualify for their own tournament, since the Confederation of African Football chose its World Cup qualifying campaign to double up as the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.)
The squad, while not bereft of talent, is lacking the iconic figure that can excite a nation. Benni McCarthy is his country’s top goalscorer and remains a danger man, but his commitment to the international cause has been seriously questioned in recent weeks.
One man that could raise eyebrows is Bernard Parker. The 23 year old attacker plays his club football in Serbia with Red Star Belgrade, and has taken to the international game with relative ease, hitting the net five times in 15 Bafana Bafana appearances.
Domestically, Teko Modise of the Johannesburg-based Orlando Pirates is an energetic midfielder capable of flashes of real brilliance. If he plays, South Africa play, and at 26 Modise will see the World Cup as the ideal arena to finally showcase his talents to Europe’s scouting presence.
This month South Africa received a huge boost when the country’s National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund donated 81million Rand to aid the development of grassroots football in rural and township areas.
In total, 27 artificial turf pitches will be built over the next three years, providing much needed facilities for training and matches. Each facility will contain a clubhouse and office for use by the local football community. The first beneficiaries will be the nine provinces where World Cup games will be played – Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Nelspruit, Rustenburg and Polokwane.
The aim, of course, is to give young South Africans the necessary facilities so they can replicate the skills of their idols who will grace their country in just over a year’s time.
But so much depends on McCarthy, Modise et al to ensure that lottery funding is not miss-spent.
If Bafana Bafana fail to capture the imagination of their followers, they seriously risk alienating football from the next generation of South African sportsmen.