One game to go: Bafana are on the cusp of clinching World Cup qualifying group
Provided they can hold their nerve in what is likely to be a very challenging match against Ghana, South Africa can take a giant leap towards qualifying for the 2022 Fifa World Cup – against all odds.
Bafana Bafana now just need a single point at worst to ensure progression to the final round of qualification for the Fifa World Cup in Qatar next year.
After sealing a 1-0 win over neighbours Zimbabwe on 11 November at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa are in pole position to finish as one of the 10 group winners who will move on to the playoff phase in order to find the five teams to represent Africa during the 2022 World Cup.
After their victory over Norman Mapeza’s Warriors, courtesy of a Teboho Mokoena header from a sumptuous Keagan Dolly cross halfway through the first stanza, Hugo Broos’s side are on 13 points, three more than their next opponents, Ghana.
The Ghanaians, who had earlier on 11 November played to a 1-1 draw against underdogs Ethiopia, are under the most pressure seeing as they were the favourites to finish at the summit of Group G.
When they play the Black Stars in Cape Coast on 14 November, Broos’s team will be targeting a victory, although a draw will also be sufficient to see them over the line.
A defeat of any kind will have South Africans whipping out their calculators, as has been the case when the country has sought qualification for major tournaments such as the World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).
Although SA have their destiny in their hands and a victory or draw will not necessitate such panic, even a 1-0 victory for Ghana will see the 2010 World Cup quarterfinalists qualify.
If Ghana win by that score, the two World Cup hopefuls will be level on 13 points apiece. A 1-o win for Ghana will also see the two teams level on goal difference, with +4 each.
After that, the deciding factor will be goals scored. As it stands, the Group G contenders are level on that as well, having netted six goals apiece from their five previous games. A 1-0 win for Ghana would give them seven goals scored, and they would pip Bafana Bafana to the next round.
Bafana Bafana’s Belgian coach, Broos, is confident that they can do the job at hand, despite concerns that his team put up a tame performance against Zimbabwe.
“We’ve had four good games [before this one against Zimbabwe]. We played good football in some games, we showed a [strong] mentality in other games. So, everything is there. It doesn’t mean that because today I didn’t see that mentality, I didn’t see that fighting spirit, I have to doubt the team. Not at all… I’m not anxious. I’m sure that for Sunday there will be another South Africa present on the pitch compared to today,” Broos said at a post-match conference.
With a draw enough to see SA ease through to the next phase, it would be easy for them to arrive in Ghana and look to defend for their lives, in hopes of a nil-all draw. Broos says it is not on the cards.
“I think we will be making the biggest mistake if on Sunday we are going to defend. Then we will concede goals. For sure,” continued the coach.
“In some periods of the game we will have to trouble Ghana as well. If we are just defending, then we will lose the game… We have to play our game. Okay, it’s in Ghana, it’s different. But we will not only defend.”
Head of the Zimbabwean team Mapeza, who previously coached Chippa United in the Premier Soccer League, lavished praise on his counterpart for the work the Belgian has done since taking over from Molefi Ntseki.
“You guys [South Africans] should be happy because I don’t think when the coach started this project, it was for you to be at this stage so soon,” Mapeza stated.
Broos has been in the Bafana hot seat since May 2021, after Ntseki’s dismissal after the team’s botched attempt to qualify for a second successive Afcon competition.
It was the fourth time in 11 years that Bafana had not made the cut in an effort to qualify for the biennial continental showpiece. They failed to qualify in 2010, 2012 and 2017. In addition, they have failed to qualify for the World Cup in the traditional manner since 2002. In 2010 they qualified automatically as the host nation.
Interestingly, their haul of 13 points to date equals the highest number of points they have managed to achieve in World Cup qualifiers after five games.
When they qualified for the global showpiece hosted by South Korea and Japan 19 years ago, they had collected the same number of points as now, before eventually finishing with 16 points in their group.
Midfield maestro Mokoena, who was voted player of the match for his game-winning contribution versus Zimbabwe, says the team is ready to deliver at all costs, although he would have liked the team to score more to boost their goal difference and thus their qualification chances.
“I’m not satisfied with the score line [against Zimbabwe], but we take the win going into the Ghana game. We have to be positive going into Sunday’s clash, and I hope we give our best and we come back with a result,” he said.
Zimbabwe travelled to Ghana in early October and were beaten 3-1 by the home side. Mapeza had some advice for South Africa on what they can expect to encounter during their short stay in the West African country.
“It’s not going to be easy. We went to Cape Coast and psychologically you should be ready. I hope you find a training pitch there because there is nothing,” Mapeza cautioned.
Come what may, if the South Africans display the grit that sees them currently undefeated in this remarkable campaign after five games, with four wins and a draw, they will be able to handle whatever the Black Stars throw at them.
Although, as Broos has pointed out, should they fall at this penultimate hurdle, the lessons learnt by his young team will be invaluable. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.