21 November 2008
South Africa’s preparations for hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup face the next hurdle with this weekend’s draw for the 2009 Confederations Cup.
It’s no secret that the “Festival of Champions” – which pits continental winners against the holders (Italy) and hosts of the World Cup – is a key curtain-raiser for 2010, both on and off the field.
Thanks to apartheid, South Africa missed out on decades of top-level competition. And, apart from a moment of Mandela-induced magic when Bafana Bafana won the African Cup of Nations in 1996, it is clear that the isolation has taken its toll.
While the world-class talent has always been there (think Jomo Sono, Gary Bailey, Lucas Radebe, Benni McCarthy), the country has failed to make its mark in the international arena. So much so, that Bafana are currently floundering in 80th place on Fifa’s rankings.
Nevertheless, the team is finally showing real signs of progress. Wednesday’s pulsating victory over west African giants Cameroon marked their fourth win in a row.
Let’s not forget that unfancied 2002 World Cup co-hosts South Korea (who made it to the semi-final) proved that almost anything can happen when there’s home-ground advantage at an event of this magnitude.
Irrespective, of what happens at next year’s Confederations Cup or in 2010, Bafana Bafana, their fans and the rest of the South African public are now in the international spotlight.
Perhaps the Confederations Cup – the biggest international football event this continent has ever staged – will ignite the spark that will see team South Africa making a late charge.
Football is a funny game – as South Korea will remind us …
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010