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Goodbye Mr Parreira

The South African national team may have lost their coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, but the former FIFA World Cup™ winner has certainly left a foundation on which to build a competitive team for 2010.
Pictures of hundreds of thousands of Germans packing the streets of Berlin to celebrate with their team after a third-place finish were among the more endearing images of the last FIFA World Cup™ finals. The massive outpouring of patriotic fervour and affection for “Die Mannschaft” exposed a gentler edge to the Germans and did wonders for their international image. It was again a display of how sport is a leader in engendering powerful social change.
Ordinarily though, the Germans are not used to celebrating bronze. They have previously won gold at the FIFA World Cup™ and the European Championship and are perennial contenders for football’s highest honours. But while their 2006 team fell short of the mark, they will go down as one of the most memorable German sides ever for their tenacity, their sense of purpose and particularly for the way they overcame pre-tournament odds.
Few remember now how vilified coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players were before the 2006 tournament started. Their preparations had been a motley string of results against mediocre opposition and there was a clarion call for the coach’s head even before the finals got underway. But they overcame that difficult patch at the start of the FIFA World Cup™ finals and after victory in the tournament’s opening game seemed to gain a momentum that rapidly brought about a change in mood among the German populace out on the streets.
Who could forget that memorable last-gasp winner against Poland in Dortmund or Jens Lehmann’s saves in the quarter¬final shootout against Argentina, aided by the crumpled notes he had on their spot kick takers? All of this made Germany 2006 a magical event, driving home how important the performance of the host nation is to the success of the FIFA World Cup™.
Casting forward to South Africa 2010, there were doubts as to whether Bafana Bafana ever could be effective in their own tournament. And not without good reason either. South Africa had managed to snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, ceding top place in their 2006 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign at the last hurdle and missing out on the finals. They had also turned in some miserable results in successive CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournaments in Tunisia and Egypt.
It did not take a genius to realise the team needed a strong leader to get on track for the 2010 finals and to their credit South Africa’s football administrators moved quickly to appoint a high-profile coach to guide the side.
Carlos Alberto Parreira had been approached in the past to coach the side and turned them down. But when South Africa came calling again, he jumped at the chance to return to yet another FIFA World Cup™, this time as coach of the hosts for 2010. He arrived in Johannesburg with an air of gravitas and a vision for creating a competitive team. There were three successive steps to his mission, intended to build the team slowly over time. A strong dose of patience and perseverance and a broad vision were needed in order to come anywhere close to what the Germans achieved in 2006.
Although Parreira’s first game in charge was a comfortable 3-0 win in Chad, it was soon evident the Brazilian had his work cut out. Positive results were in short supply but did not sway him off course. Even as public patience began to wear thin and critics sharpened their pencils, Parreira insisted on experimenting with new players and also testing his young charges against top-quality opposition.
It was a lonely path through 2007 and although Parreira had an extended honeymoon from the usually fickle fans, there was always an undertone of dissent, which picked up in volume when the side again failed to get past the group stage of the Africa Cup of Nations finals at the start of this year.
It seemed unfair, for while the team did not win in Ghana, they only lost one game too, and that courtesy of a series of calamitous defensive errors. On the whole, the side showed a marked improvement. Plus, Parreira had uncovered a bevy of new stars, sidelining a tiring generation of mainly foreign-based players who had been playing on reputation only.
In March came another testing friendly, this time against powerful Paraguay, at full strength and brimming with confidence after taking an early lead in the CONMEBOL qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finals. Parreiras prodigies turned in a stellar performance in winning 3-0 and after 21 matches and 61 players it seemed the Brazilian had finally delivered the magic touch.
After years of ridicule, the side looked buoyant and brimming with hope, suggesting they too could take the home populace on the same heady ride the Germans had in 2006. But then came the bombshell of Parreiras sudden resignation, a decision taken because of the illness of his wife and his desire to be closer to his loved ones in Rio de Janeiro. The news came at a potentially crucial juncture for South Africa, just over two years away now from hosting the world’s biggest sporting event, a blow to the solar plexus of a nation slowly daring to believe.
South Africa moved quickly to replace him and aimed for continuity with the appointment of another Brazilian, Joel Santana. And while fate would appear to be cruel, it could be that this test of character serves only to fortify the side in the same way that the Germans dug deep into their store of resilience to prove their doubters wrong in 2006.
Bafana Bafana said a sad goodbye to Parreira but the former FIFA World Cup™ winner has certainly left a foundation on which to build a competitive team for 2010. And he would certainly be welcome to join in should the fans end up celebrating in the streets of Johannesburg just as they were in Berlin.