The upcoming all-North African Champions League final once again shows the Desert Foxes are kings of
|Fiery passion... Al Ahly fans|
Sadly, however, there will be little interest in
with the country’s
participation having ended way back in February. South Africa
This is no doubt a stain on
; that its clubs have fared so poorly
to a point where the country has all but lost interest in continental football.
More significantly, though, it’s this lack of interest that has contributed to the national team not only plummeting in the world rankings, but losing respect as a top tier opponent on the African continent.
The record of South African clubs in the African Champions League is dismal to say the least. This year Orlando Pirates were timidly knocked out in the preliminary round by
Libolo, last year it was the turn of SuperSport United – Matsatsantsa beaten in
the first round by Al Ahly. Angola
In 2010, the last time the country had two teams in the competition, Pirates were again dismissed in the preliminary round, by Gaborone United, while SuperSport fell to a second round exit at the hands of
’s Heartland. In 2009
meanwhile both SuperSport and Ajax Cape Town were knocked out in the first
The effects of this lethargy transmute to Bafana Bafana which has dropped to a ranking of 76th in the world.
When Pirates famously won African Champions League in 1995 it was seen as a sign of great things to come. After years of exile,
was the new exciting frontier to be conquered. In 1993 Jomo Cosmos had
thrillingly reached the semi-finals of the Caf Cup Winner’s Cup before their
magical run was finally halted by ’s Africa Sports. Ivory Coast
Then in 2001 Mamelodi Sundowns reached the Champions League final while Kaizer Chiefs won the Nelson Mandela Cup (Cup Winner’s Cup), allowing the country to enter two clubs in the Champions League first time since re-admission.
The upshot of this enthusiasm was a golden age for Bafana Bafana, the pinnacle of which saw Neil Tovey lift the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in 1996. Over the next five years Bafana finished second and third at the Afcon and qualified for two consecutive World Cup finals, 1998 and 2002.
|Bafana Bafana's crowning glory...|
Captain Neil Tovey lifts the 1996
Africa Cup of Nations
The current list consists of
Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria,
Sudan, the DRC, Algeria, Morocco,
Mali, Cameroon, Ivory
The African Champions League has its problems no doubt. Perhaps it would help if the lucrative group stages happened earlier with four groups instead of the current two. Conceivably this would decrease travelling distances and generate more interest in the competition with more countries involved.
South African teams also point to the high costs of participating in African competitions and in 2005 Kaizer Chiefs pulled of Confederation Cup match citing this very reason resulting in a three-year ban from Caf.
Even so, the country seems to be missing the bigger picture. National team achievement and club success are not mutually exclusive.
Another African example is TP Mazembe’s recent rise which has seen the rebirth of their national side resulting in the DRC qualifying for the Afcon for the first time since 2004.
Going further back, the platform for the success enjoyed by
in the 1980s, 90s and
early 2000s was set by a golden period for Cameroonian clubs in the 1970s.
Between 1971 and 1980 Cameroonian teams won African Champions League four
times, with Canon Yaoundé winning three titles (in 1971, 1978 and 1980) and
Union Douala lifting the cup in 1979. Cameroon
Deprived of the hardened nature of African competition
’s for their part
national teams have suffered. Without considering the hosting of tournaments,
Bafana hasn’t qualified for the Afcon since 2008 and hasn’t qualified for the
World Cup since 2002. South Africa
Gloomy stats are readily available.
The last time Bafana won a game at the Afcon was on January 24 2004, a 2-0 win over
Benin, while hasn’t ended the year
in the world’s top 40 since 2004, a position the country had held since 1995. South Africa
“It is important to take part in African club competitions,” former Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane said last year. “Our players need to experience the harsh conditions, learn about the lack of facilities in other parts of the continent to realise how fortunate they are; they need to rough it and travel in the kind of bus that looks like it could disintegrate any time.”
“They need to experience hostile crowds in a packed stadium,” Mosimane said. It will build their character. It will make them stronger mentally and, by the time they get selected for national duty, they will have experienced it all while playing for their club sides. It can only help our junior and senior national teams in Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers.”
It’s difficult to disagree.
|The Old Guard|
Bafana's battle-hardened soldiers
Plans are afoot to try and remedy the situation.
In April PSL chief executive Stanley Matthews revealed plans to align South Africa’s football season with the calendar from 2014, as is the norm in most African countries and to the way the Champions League is played, in a bid to help South African clubs become more competitive on the continent.
“In principle the executive have agreed to switch the season to a calendar year to be in line with the rest of
Africa,” Matthews said. “The
league wants to see its clubs do well in Africa
and this is a step in that direction.”
1995, the year when Pirates lifted the Champions League trophy, was the last in which the domestic league was played in the January-December format, before shifting to the European (August to May) calendar in 1996.
Whether a switch back is a definitive solution is debatable. Calendar change or not, what seems of most importance is clubs take the Caf Champions League much more seriously.
With the 2013 Afcon just around the corner
’s place on the continent becomes an
even more pertinent issue. South
Africa South Africa
has arguably the top domestic league in Africa.
But for the country to be taken seriously as a football nation it has to do
much better in Pan African competitions, coupled with the realisation that
can’t host every tournament. South Africa