Bafana Bafana ready for crunch Afcon contest against Liberia

Bafana Bafana ready for crunch Afcon contest against Liberia
Fagrie Lakay of South Africa, Presnel Kimpembe of France during the international friendly match between France and South Africa at Stade Pierre Mauroy on 29 March 2022 in Villeneuve d'Ascq near Lille, France. (Photo: Jean Catuffe / Getty Images)

Bafana Bafana are out to make it to the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 2019. In their way stand Liberia. But Hugo Broos and his men are confident of success.

It’s do or die for Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos and his team in their quest to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Ivory Coast – which is set for kick-off in January 2024.  

The 70-year-old Belgian is fully aware of this. He shared as much during his pre-match press conference as his team gear up to tackle Liberia in a make-or-break double-header contest. The team with the most points across the two fixtures will strengthen their prospects of booking a flight to Ivory Coast.

“The camp is going well. The boys are working hard, preparing themselves very well for the games taking place on Friday (24 March) and Tuesday. That makes me happy. We are conscious that we have two tough games to play. But I feel that the team believes in itself and the chance of [obtaining] a positive result,” Broos told journalists on Thursday.

South Africa missed out on qualifying for both the recent Qatar World Cup and the 2022 Afcon in Cameroon. During the latter failure, Broos was not at the helm. Molefi Ntseki was the coach at the time.

Hugo Broos of Bafana Bafana during the international friendly match between South Africa and Angola at Mbombela Stadium on 20 November 2022 in Nelspruit, South Africa. (Photo: Dirk Kotze / Gallo Images)

Bafana Bafana then narrowly missed out on a trip to Qatar with Broos at the helm. They were edged by Ghana on most goals scored in their group, after finishing level on 13 points with the Black Stars. The team are keen to avoid déjà vu in this regard.

“The first game is probably more important than the second game. Because we need a win. We absolutely need a win here. If we can go to Monrovia with a victory, we can go with three points and a good goal difference,” the Belgian coach continued.

“So, this is something we have to keep in mind. If we score the first goal, we don’t have to stop. Without taking risks, we can go for the second and maybe the third goal.”

During Bafana Bafana’s push for Qatar, the team accumulated the highest number of points since collecting 16 in a successful 2002 World Cup qualification push. They managed the same haul during their failed bid to qualify for the 2006 showpiece in Germany.

“We saw what happened in the World Cup qualifiers. If we’d scored a bit more goals, we would have been in the playoffs. So, we must try to win with as many goals as possible against Liberia. Though it won’t be easy,” Broos said.

Both countries have played one match apiece, with each losing to group favourites Morocco. The continent’s first World Cup semifinalists are thus in pole position with six points.

They are not expected to lose the reverse fixtures versus their two group mates. Which makes the clash between the South Africans and the Liberians that much more important for both of them.

“We are ready and we’ve prepared well for the game. It’s up to us how positive we’ll be as we look to secure the three points. We’ll try to score as many goals as we can. Because as the coach said, we remember what happened with goal difference in the [World Cup qualifiers],” said Bafana vice-captain Siyanda Xulu.

When he took over the Bafana hot seat in 2o21, Broos said it was “non-negotiable” that his side should qualify for Afcon in Ivory Coast.

The team’s prospects of qualifying were bolstered when Zimbabwe, the fourth nation in the group, was removed after world football’s custodian Fifa slapped the team with a ban for political interference.

Now the permutations are simple. Avoid defeat against Liberia, and South Africa will likely qualify for their first Afcon since reaching the last eight of the 2019 edition in Egypt.

The first instalment the intense duel takes place at the Orlando stadium in Soweto. Kickoff is at 6pm. DM


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