Bafana Bafana, or to be more precise, Carlos Alberto Parreira, received a resounding welcome in his home country, Brazil and is a media darling everywhere the team went.
While most of the players strolled freely out of the Belo Horizonte International Airport on Tuesday evening waiting for their game against local favourites Cruzeiro the next day, Parreira was a busy man, fielding questions about Bafana’s prospects in the World Cup.
Since winning the 1994 World Cup in the United States Parreira has been a favourite of the Brazilian people and always attracts media attention.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Bafana — most of the players here are unknown to the locals.
The idea of bringing Bafana to a month-long training camp in Brazil was to make them feel, eat, walk and sleep football the Brazilian way — and learn to samba. Whether that will be achieved by the end of the camp is a topic for another day.
The indisputable fact is that Teko Modise is not Kaka, Simphiwe Tshabalala is nowhere near Robinho, Katlego Mphela cannot be compared with Luis Fabiano and Siboniso Gaxa is miles away from Maicon — and to expect them to master the Brazilian way of life is asking far too much.
But Parreira was still positive that South Africa could be the surprise package of the World Cup.
Although the players have shown some improvements in their technical and tactical discipline, Parreira admitted that there is still a long way to go, especially after the team played to a rather fortunate 0-0 draw with Cruzeiro on Wednesday night.
But Parreira was still confident that the team is on the right track.
“We have been here for only nine days and you cannot do miracles in those days.
“Results are good, but performance is important in our case as we try to build confidence by dominating in ball possession,” the coach said after seeing his side huffing and puffing against a determined Cruzeiro.
He said people should not be fooled by the positive results the team registered against local sides Volta Redonda, Fluminense and Boavista.
Bafana started their Brazilian safari with a disappointing goalless draw against Redonda last Saturday but regrouped in their second game to wallop a hapless Fluminense second-string side 8-0 before they beat Boavista 2-0.
Bafana were nowhere near their best against Cruzeiro, who deserved something out of the game, but unfortunately came up against a stubborn Itumeleng Khune in goals.
But Parreira cautioned against too much excitement saying the team was far from where he would like them to be.
“We have seen some improvement in the squad, but we cannot ask for miracles and expect players to be super fit overnight. It’s a process.But so far, so good and the camp has been a success. The outcome has been very positive,” he said.
The World Cup-winning coach said the aim of the camp was to get the team to learn the Brazilian way of playing and have some kind of identity. But he acknowledged that they still have a lot of work ahead.
“I am happy about the wins, but the main idea remains to grow this side to a formidable team that will be super fit, can keep shape, keep possession and finish off strongly.”
He said after the four games there is light at the end of the tunnel as the players responded well to instructions and executed them exceptionally well.
He was mostly impressed by the organisation of his defence, which did not give anything away at the back. Physical trainer Francesco Gonzalez was also full of praise for the players’ attitude and determination.
Known for his no-nonsense training methods, Gonzalez could afford to smile when talking about the players’ shape and conditioning.
“After the short season we had, most players were not fully fit but they are almost where we want them to be. We will continue working hard because there is no more turning back,” he said.
The good thing about Bafana is that they have yet to concede a goal ahead of the much-anticipated clash with Botafogo, who are coached by former Bafana coach Joel Santana. The game is pencilled in for Saturday.
For now, Parreira is still enjoying the limelight and the attention he is getting from his legion of followers in his home country.