A transition stage for Bafana Bafana

South Africa’s recent failure to qualify for the African Nations Cup for the first time in 14 years has sent a ripple of panic through the soccer fraternity, but former Bafana Bafana striker Marc Batchelor believes that there’s still time for a turnaround before the 2010 World Cup.

‘I think we’ve got a good chance of being ready,” Batchelor told the Mail & Guardian this week. ‘I thought we played really well against Nigeria and we could have beaten them on the day, but it’s all about us taking our chances.”

Bafana Bafana failed to convert a number of scoring opportunities as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Nigeria in Port Elizabeth last Saturday.

Batchelor remains confident that South Africa can rebound from what many perceive is a football crisis — with the prospect of a dismal 2010 World Cup campaign looming large — if several key factors are addressed in coming months.

‘The main thing is that if you go back to the more successful years when we won the African Nations Cup in 1996, out of a squad of 30 players, we had 22 guys playing overseas for quality overseas teams.

‘Against Nigeria, Benni McCarthy [Blackburn Rovers] and Steven Pienaar [Everton] were the only two guys who are playing in top overseas leagues.” Batchelor also points to poor domestic competition as a source of South Africa’s woes. ‘If you look at the PSL today compared with when I played, the standard has definitely dropped — last season the top goal scorer scored 14 goals in 30 games.”

Zambian James Chamanga of Moroka Swallows led the PSL while the top South African striker, Free State Stars’ Diyo Sibisi, scored just 12 goals.

‘I finished second twice in my career with 24 goals and Mark Williams was scoring 30-plus goals a season,” said a bemused Batchelor.

‘You’ve also got to give the national coach more time and fans need to understand that this is a transition stage for Bafana Bafana.”

Former Bafana Bafana coaches ‘Carlos Queiroz and Carlos Parreira were doing a fantastic job, they just weren’t given a chance”.

The former striker is convinced that these fundamental changes would greatly improve South Africa’s chances of a competitive performance at the 2010 World Cup.

‘Obviously the draw is important, but realistically a successful World Cup for us would be to progress out of the group stages to the knockout rounds.”

South Africa’s exclusion from the 2010 African Nations Cup has denied the hosts an opportunity for a dress rehearsal in the months leading up to the World Cup, but it may prove to be a catalyst for last changes as Bafana Bafana begin the quest to rediscover a nation’s sporting pride.

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