/ 23 April 2010

No match for Bafana

No Match For Bafana

A chaotic fixture programme has led to all Bafana Bafana matches against local German opponents being cancelled, yet nobody at Safa House is willing to accept responsibility for the debacle.

Although no reason has been given for the abrupt canning of the matches, Bafana Bafana head coach Carlos Parreira has openly opposed the host nation preparing for the world’s premier sporting event by playing against mediocre sides.

Besides the matches against Bundesliga outfit FC Nuremburg’s reserves, the national team were scheduled to play two games against teams from the lower rungs of German football — third division Greuther Fürth and an obscure club from the fourth division called SpVgg Unterhaching.

South Africa Football Association (Safa) president Kirsten Nematandani told the Mail & Guardian about the difficulties his association has encountered in trying to meet Parreira’s wishes for decent opposition on this trip. “Establishing who is responsible for these fixtures is immaterial as a number of factors have made it extremely hard to get top clubs to play us at this time of the year. As you know, the German Bundesliga is in its crucial closing stages right now and the Champions League is also on.

“The issue of this volcanic ash is also bigger than we can imagine. Clubs and countries are unwilling to make their players travel thousands of kilometres by road to fulfil friendly fixtures,” said Nematandani.

Bafana Bafana had secured a match against 100-ranked Estonia, but that match appeared to fall away owing to forced travel restrictions brought about by the volcanic ash affecting most of Europe.

It appears that organising competitive games for Bafana Bafana was left far too late and frantic efforts were instituted only when Parreira took over as head coach in November. “Most countries had their programmes for international friendlies in place shortly after the Confederations Cup and we did not,” Lesley Sedibe, the new Safa chief executive, said.

He told the M&G that Parreira was busy trying to persuade fellow coaches to play his team as the World Cup draw unfolded in Cape Town in December.

“Even with his international standing, Parreira could not get a match because countries already had contracts binding them to their programmes,” he said.

Sedibe gave the example of Argentina, which he felt has been wrongly reported in the media. “There are reports that Safa were prohibited by costs from securing a fixture against Argentina. This is not true. Argentina have matches lined up in May against Canada and another fixture in Dubai, which they have to fulfil. That is not to say nothing is being done. We have been busy trying to find out who is available.”

There was some reprieve this week for Safa and Parreira when the hunt to secure opponents yielded some positive results. Bafana Bafana played North Korea yesterday as a late replacement for the inconsequential tie against FC Nuremburg’s reserves. The North Koreans, who had been training in Spain, agreed to take on the World Cup hosts after flights resumed on Wednesday.

Former Bafana Bafana captain Lucas Radebe, who was part of the triumphant 1996 team that lifted the Africa Cup of Nations and who captained the country in the 1998 and 2002 World Cup finals, has backed Parreira.

“We are close to the World Cup now and it is time to test the strength of our team with quality opposition. Our preparations [in 1996, 1998 and 2002] this close to tournaments centred on playing strong teams, which should be the case with our boys,” said Radebe.

A friendly match against China has been confirmed for next Thursday, which will bring the total to just two matches in the team’s 16-day stay in the southern German town of Herzogenauchrach.

Bafana Bafana’s next fixture is against highly-rated Denmark on June 5 in Johannesburg. Denmark are in Group E of the World Cup with Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon. Ranked 34th in the world, the Danes are a solid unit that finished top of their group in the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign.