JOHANNESBURG: With the 2014 Soccer World Cup around the corner, South Africa's soccer administrators have been told to prepare a strong Bafana Bafana team to represent the nation in Brazil.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula told reporters in Johannesburg on Monday that the South African Football Association (SAFA) and his department needed to urgently work on an overall and comprehensive long term strategy for scientific athlete development.
"It's time now for all role players in football to go back to the drawing board. We have started the building blocks on a positive note and can see a ray of hope looming large in the horizon," Mbalula said.
The media briefing was called following Bafana's exit from the Afcon tournament after a narrow defeat on penalties on Saturday night.
But an upbeat Mbalula said South Africans needed to rally behind coach Gordon Igesund as he worked in ensuring a strong national football team ahead of both 2014 and 2018 World Cup tournaments.
"We accept our people's disappointment as a natural reaction ... in the aftermath of a bruising battle. We need to extricate ourselves from any feeling of self-pity and hopelessness and focus the on the challenges that lie ahead," said Mbalula.
He saluted the team for what he described as a good "spirited" fight.
"Bafana Bafana, though starting from a low base, lifted themselves by their bootstraps as their performance showed marked improvement and incrementally restored the nation's confidence and belief in them. We have come this far in this tournament through a combination of a plethora of complimentary factors."
The Ministry of Sport and Recreation will join hands with SAFA in sourcing, among others, the scientific advice from leading thinkers in the field of sports sciences, with a view to build a strong team.
He will ask the recently established SAFA Development Agency to present its plans and interventions to the first Minister and Members of Executive Councils Meeting (MINMEC) in 2013, with a view to ensuring that provinces play a leading role in addressing the challenges facing football and sport in general.
"Our urgent intervention to deliver this is of high importance by all of us, with the Brazil World Cup taking place. Like other teams, Bafana Bafana must qualify, and for this to happen, we must execute our responsibilities for the better of this code of sport in the country," Mbalula said.
SAFA President Kirsten Nematandani also urged South Africans to continue to support the tournament despite Bafana's exit.
"Let us be seen as people who, after a loss, appear to have lost with honour. The numbers in the stadiums will prove us as great nation that continues to host major events. Let us show the rest of the world that we love sport," Nematandani said.
He lauded the team and Igesund for having reached the quarter finals of continental showpiece in more than six years.
"I truly believe they demonstrated how much they care about our country...we want to say to them thank you very much for having flown the flag so high. Let us continue the job we have started."