Heavy expectation on Bafana to inspire Mzansi

In an incredibly successful sporting nation like South Africa the bar is set pretty high for the nation’s men’s football team, Bafana Bafana. Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

In an incredibly successful sporting nation like South Africa the bar is set pretty high for the nation’s men’s football team, Bafana Bafana. Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 24, 2024


There is always an extra weight of expectation on the shoulders of Bafana Bafana.

In an incredibly successful sporting nation like South Africa with the Springboks having just won their fourth Rugby World Cup title, and second in a row, and the SA cricket team usually among the best teams in the world — the bar is set pretty high for the nation’s men’s football team.

In fact, rugby and cricket are well behind football as the most popular sport in the country. Unfortunately, since the turn of the century there has been little to shout about for Bafana fans.

Bafana burst back onto the international scene after South Africa was admitted back into international sport — by winning the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil in 1996. Incidentally, this followed the Springboks winning the Rugby World Cup as hosts the year before.

Golden generation of SA football

The golden generation of SA football would go on to qualify for the Fifa World Cup in 1998 and 2002, but since then they have not qualified for the quadrennial showpiece event as they gained automatic exemption for the 2010 edition as hosts.

Since 2000, the South African Football Association (Safa) have seen 18 different coaches come and go. In comparison, the England national football team — which have infinitely higher expectations placed upon them — have employed 10 different managers over the same period.

Bafana, led by captain Ronwen Williams, beat Democratic Republic of Congo in a penalty shootout to claim the Afcon bronze medal last month in the Ivory Coast.

As Bafana arrived back in South Africa at OR Tambo International in Johannesburg in the early hours of the morning a few days later, a massive crowd waited to greet the players.

Williams and coach Hugo Broos led the team out to rapturous applause and vuvuzela’s ringing out in the international arrival hall at the airport.

It was as if a new era had dawned for Bafana, even if most of the crowd at the airport were made up of Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) supporters looking to be associated with the team’s Afcon exploits.

Whether the support there was for political reasons or not, the fact remains that Bafana have the most potential to inspire the nation. The team best represents the nation in terms of demographics, and while rugby is not too far behind in representation, a football mad country yearns for its country to excel.

Since Belgian Broos took over the reigns as coach in 2021, Bafana has once more seen an upturn in results. But since so many different coaches have taken charge of Bafana over the last 24 years, the optimism was curbed under the control of another foreign coach.

Bafana have famously, and mostly unsuccessfully, employed six different foreign coaches since 2000, including Broos.

This time it’s different

With Broos, however, it feels different as there is a new sense of unity among the team. There are no players that command quite the same star power as someone like Benni McCarthy, Lucas Radebe or Quinton Fortune at the disposal of Broos.

Yet, Broos seems to be moulding news stars like Ronwen Williams who was sensational at Afcon as he produced some incredible displays. Another player who seems set for a career in the big leagues away from the local Premiership is Teboho Mokoena. The 27-year-old midfielder is in the middle of his prime playing days, and was widely hailed as one of the outstanding players at Afcon.

The ultimate goal for Bafana, though, is qualifying for the Fifa World Cup again in 2026. With qualifiers having begun last year, they run until November 2025. South Africa are currently second in their Group C. The top finisher in each of the nine African groups will qualify for the World Cup.

The hopes now are indeed high for Bafana and Broos, and at the very least the nation will be buoyed by qualifying for the biggest event in football. And if they manage that, it will mean a second golden generation of star South African footballers have finally arrived.


IOL Sport

* The views expressed are not necessarily the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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