Soccer: SA's AFCON prep gets a boost, but LOC still struggling
The African Cup of Nations is just a few months away, and while Bafana Bafana’s preparation is rolling full steam ahead, the local organising committee is running into a brick wall, repeatedly. By ANT SIMS.
The African Cup of Nations showpiece is getting closer to kick-off, and in a bid to ensure the best preparation possible ahead of the tournament, South Africa has arranged a friendly against Norway at Cape Town’s stadium on 8 January 2013.
"This match, at this stadium, will be one of our most important warm-up matches, and it's huge for us in the context of the team's preparation," said South African Football Association (SAFA) CEO Robin Petersen.
"After this match, Bafana will be off to Johannesburg for their final warm-up match, so the Cape Town clash will be an important confidence booster."
The friendly is scheduled to take place just 11 days ahead of the tournament, and coach Gordon Igesund is grateful for the opportunity to help him tinker with his team just before the tournament - where he is expected to guide the national team to the semi-finals - kicks off.
"Norway is a quality opponent and we are grateful that we get the chance to play them as we near the end of our preparations for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations," he said.
"It affords me an opportunity to fine-tune my final combination that will play in the tournament, so this will be a good test for us and will help us gauge our readiness."
Bafana Bafana previously played Norway, back in 2009, and beat them 2-1. The visitors' coach, Egil Olsen, is also viewing the friendly as preparation ahead of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Egil is hoping the friendly can help him balance the scale between youth and experience.
"We played South Africa prior to the 2010 Fifa World Cup and we unfortunately lost. I personally hope that this is not going to happen again," said Olsen.
"To play Bafana in South Africa in January is a good start to the 2013 year for us.
"We are preparing for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers starting in March next year, and we have a bunch of young players knocking on the door right now."
Igesund, who travelled to England on Monday hoping to meet with managers from the clubs of South Africans based overseas, reiterated the importance of the tournament for South Africa and said that he was hoping the clubs would release some players earlier in order to give them the best kind of chance to prepare.
"We are playing a very important tournament for the country, and it is for this reason that we have to engage the managers to see if those players that we would have selected can be available when we start our camp," Igesund said. "South Africa will reciprocate by not calling up some of those players when their clubs have important fixtures in future."
While the national team's preparation for the tournament seems to be well on track, the Afcon Local Organising Committee (LOC), however, does have some concerns that not all the tickets for the African showpiece will have sold out before the tournament kicks off.
The tournament has never really been a tourist attraction, but the committee was nonetheless hoping for some good sales. Just 30,000 tickets of the 500,000 available have been sold and the aim was to have everything sold out before the competition started. Various reasons have been given for the poor sales, including some confusion at the outlets where tickets can be purchased.
Tickets first went on sale on 25 September for the first phase, before closing on 24 October. Phase two began just one day later, on 25 October, and will end on 20 December. Some tickets will be discounted with between five and 10% off tickets in certain categories. The cost for the games range from R60 for the group stages to a staggering R600 for the final.
Other logistical concerns for the LOC include the amount of money allocated by government for operational cost. After forking out huge sums of money for the World Cup in 2010, the South African government allocated R461 million ($51 million) to the Cup of Nations, with only R82 million going to LOC for operational costs.
"We know it's not all the money requested from government, but government has got other priorities, which they've shared with us. We've accepted that," LOC chief executive Mvuzo Mbebe said. "We will just have to adjust here and there and make sure we still do the things that need to be done.
"Would I have not wanted a little bit more money to make sure we can promote things? Yes, it would have been ideal."
Full-on advertising for the showpiece is yet to be rolled out, and with money tight, plus the odd scheduling of matches (a large number of matches will be taking place at 17:00 on a week day), the LOC has a tough time ahead if it wants to ensure the success of the tournament. DM