Ghana planning works, SA bungle it
Bafana Bafana's dream of competing in the 2006 soccer World Cup is out of their hands. For the South Africans to make the trip to Germany next year, they'll have to hope Ghana slip up in their two remaining qualifiers.
That was the reality staring Bafana squarely in the face after Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Ghana at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
With the Democratic Republic of Congo losing to Burkina Faso, the race for Germany is a straight battle between Bafana and Ghana - but the Ghanaians have the inside lane.
Ghana top the group with 15 points along with Bafana, and both have two games remaining. Ghana have to play Uganda (at home) and Cape Verde (away); Bafana have to play Burkina Faso (away) and DR Congo (home).
But according to the qualifying rules, if both win their remaining matches or finish joint top of their group, Ghana will go through to the World Cup finals by virtue of the teams' head-to-head record - two victories in two matches. Goal difference does not count.
Bafana's precarious situation is a stark reminder of the gradual demise of SA football as an African powerhouse since winning the African Nations Cup in 1996.
Very few real class players are emerging, the quality of the domestic Premier League has been on a steady decline, and recent Bafana coaches have had to rely on the same players year in and year out.
While it's always the coaches who have to bear the brunt of defeat, it's perhaps time for the entire South African soccer fraternity - from administrators to the media to supporters - to take a long, hard look at the state of the national game.
The reality and the truth of it is: we are simply not as good as we think we are.
In contrast, consider the preparation and performance of Ghana. Everything was meticulously done: from the decision to prepare in Kenya to simulate altitude conditions in Johannesburg to the committed, determined display on the field on Saturday. (Compare that to SAFA denying coach Stuart Baxter's request to prepare in Portugal for the previous qualifier in Praia, Cape Verde).
Also, the number of top class Ghanaians coming through in recent years to star for European clubs, like Stephen Appiah of Juventus and the highly sought-after Michael Essien of Lyon demonstrates other African countries are doing something right - and South Africa, for too long, have been stuck on a wave of complacency.
In short, not qualifying for the World Cup in 2006 is a blessing in disguise as it forces those at the helm to pull finger - and realise the depths to which the sport has sunk.