Will Bafana Bafana fans rally behind the Red Devils in Russia’18?20/11/2017

Surely the poor performance of the Bafana Bafana squad in the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia has caused major disappointment among the South African soccer fans.  “I sincerely sympathise” says Jean-Pierre Muller, head of AWEX Johannesburg. “I perfectly remember the time when the Belgian Red Devils consistently ended up facing complicated calculations to determine the chance of qualifying for the major soccer tournaments. We would have to win the last two or three final games with a strong goal average and at the same time bet on an improbable losing streak of our direct competitors. And in most case it would not happen, of course”.  Indeed, Belgium did not qualify for the World Cup finals twelve years in a row until 2014. At that time, the Belgian soccer team dropped to around the 80thplace in the FIFA rankings, not far from where Bafana Bafana are ranked now!

But Belgium, with a population of only 11m and just 34 professional clubs competing across two leagues, now ranks fifth in the FIFA world ranking, and even topped the list from November 2015 until March 2016! “So tables can turn, there is always hope. Bafana Bafana are capable of bouncing back and they will eventually! It is probably just a matter of time, of patience, and, of course, of hard work at the level of youth clubs and sports academies”, adds Muller. "If Belgium has made it possible in ten years or so, why not South Africa? It has a reservoir of millions of young soccer enthusiasts. Their passion only needs to be properly channelled and their talent nurtured …”

With its golden generation, Belgium surely has one of the most attractive squads for the FIFA World Cup in Russia this upcoming June. Just think of the combined talents of the Hazard and Lukaku brothers, Kompany, De Bruyne, Courtois, Mertens, Fellaini, Vertonghen and the likes! What remains to be seen is whether the magic will happen, in other words whether the coach, Roberto Martinez, can find the recipe to make these incredibly talented individuals play at their best level collectively.

 “We will be organizing public viewings of the Belgian games in Joburg in June 2018 during the tournament, and I sincerely hope that the supporters of the Bafana Bafana will come and join the fun” says Claudine Vandenabeele, who is Trade & Investment advisor at AWEX Johannesburg, and also the secretary of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce for Southern Africa (BCCSA). “The chamber will organize these events primarily for the members, but everyone is invited. The more, the merrier”, she says.

The Belgian team is one of the most diverse in the world. Lots of players are from immigrant descent or have multiracial roots. Take Vincent Kompany, Romelu and Jordan Lukaku, Axel Witsel, Radja Nainggolan and Michi Batshuayi for example. Or Marouane Fellaini, Christian Benteke, Musa Dembele, Divock Origi, Nacer Chadli, Adnan Januzaj, Dedryck Boyata... We could go on and on! "To use a typical South African metaphor, I would call it “the rainbow squad" says Muller. “It is very representative of Belgium, one of the most diverse countries in Europe”.

“And what is true for soccer is also true for business” adds Vandenabeele. “Immigration has had a beneficial impact on the Belgian economy by creating a rich pool of different expertise, culture, languages, and talent. My country has one of the most dynamic and open economies in the world, and was again recognized in 2017 by the World Economic Forum as the third most globalized country in the world. Foreign trade and foreign investment play a very important role in our economy. Speaking of foreign investment, we have already attracted several important South African companies in Belgium, but one of our tasks is to convince more companies to follow suit".

"Hopefully, the Soccer World Cup will put the spotlight on tiny Belgium and help us gain even more popularity among South Africans” she says.

Fingers crossed.