It's time we accept that we are average

Amajita cach Thabo Senong made tactical blunders but must not be solely blamed for the team's World Cup exit, says the writer.
Amajita cach Thabo Senong made tactical blunders but must not be solely blamed for the team's World Cup exit, says the writer.
Image: Aitor Alcalde - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Our national under-20 squad, who bowed out of the ongoing World Cup in Poland after three games, have been so mercilessly pilloried; you would think we are a nation of world-beaters.

Two admittedly spineless defeats - to Argentina and then Korea Republic - and a draw against Portugal ended Amajita's tournament prematurely, denying them even a chance of qualifying for the knockout phase as one of the best third-placed teams.

It is correct that South Africans voice their displeasure about the team's shoddy performance, but what is shocking is the manner of castigating a young team who, in reality, are merely the mirror of disappointing trends from our national teams.

Our boys suffered a heavy 5-2 loss against naturally one of the world's powerhouses, Argentina, in the first match, triggered in the main by a needless red card and a VAR-awarded penalty which came when the score was 1-1.

Where I would criticise Thabo Senong's team, is the manner in which they lost the second game against Korea. For long parts, we were the better team and should have taken the lead way before the Asians struck via a soft goal.

But how many times have we seen a South African team dominate the opposition, only to return empty-handed in the end?

In the third match against Portugal, Amajita showed guts to force a draw, in a game where skipper Khulekani Kubheka also stopped a penalty. It was a courageous performance, albeit a case of too little, too late.

What has followed since our boys returned from Poland has been an overzealous derisive fest on a young side, with predictable calls for Senong to be axed for his supposed lack of tactical competence.

Senong's selections were questionable at times, but to pin all Amajita's problems on a coach who actually is the first in SA to qualify for two successive World Cups, would be shortsighted.

SA football has been in such a downward spiral that we are surprised when one of our teams actually qualify for a World Cup.

And when our teams have qualified, we need to learn to lower our expectations, because a World Cup is, well, a World Cup, where the very best teams in the world compete.

Expecting an average team who barely scraped through qualification, to make it at that stage borders on irrationality.

As a matter of fact, only one SA football team - across age and gender - has ever made it out of their group at a World Cup: Serame Letsoaka's U-20s of 2009. All other teams, including Bafana at home in 2010, were sent packing at the first hurdle. That can't be solely a Thabo Senong problem.

We are a nation who over-expect, overrate our clearly below-par football teams and, misguidedly, believe we are world-beaters. Now, two of our teams are in major international tournaments this month. Banyana - who have not won a match in 2019 - make their first-ever World Cup appearance against Spain on Saturday, in a group that includes China and Germany.

Bafana are off to Egypt for the Afcon, beginning June 21. Can we all be realistic about their prospects and not throw a hissy fit if they return after three matches?

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