Sport

CRUNCH TIME

No room for error as Bafana Bafana resume World Cup qualification journey 

No room for error as Bafana Bafana resume World Cup qualification journey 
Hugo Broos, head coach of Bafana Bafana during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations match between South Africa and DR Congo at Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium in Abidjan, Cote dIvoire. 10 February 2024. (Photo: Achille Ndomo Tsanga/BackpagePix)

As part of their lengthy World Cup qualification journey, South Africa faces Nigeria in a game that will be a replay of one of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations semifinals. Bafana Bafana will also tussle with Zimbabwe. 

Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos is fully cognisant of all the challenges that await his team as they look to stabilise their 2026 Fifa World Cup qualification journey. Nevertheless, he is confident that his team can earn the points needed in their upcoming pair of fixtures.

South Africa’s senior men’s soccer side takes on Nigeria and Zimbabwe as a continuation of what remains a lengthy World Cup qualification process. They play the Super Eagles on Friday, 7 June in Nigeria.

They will then return to South Africa to prepare for neighbours Zimbabwe — whom they tackle on Tuesday, 11 June at the Free State Stadium.

It’s imperative that Bafana Bafana avoid defeat in both fixtures in order to strengthen their chances of being one of the nine African nations that make it to the next global soccer extravaganza, which will be co-hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States, in a couple of years.

In their opening two qualification matches for the showpiece, South Africa delivered a mixed results haul. Bafana Bafana beat Benin 2-1 in Durban, but undid that positive start to their campaign when they went down 2-0 to Rwanda in Butare.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bafana coach Hugo Broos laments Rwandan pitch but accepts defeat in World Cup qualifier  

Since that surprise result in November 2023, Bafana Bafana have won a bronze medal at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) — which took place in Ivory Coast earlier this year.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Brave Bafana win Afcon battle for bronze as goalkeeper Ronwen Williams saves the day

Despite the disappointment of not making it to the final after being felled 4-2 on penalties by the Super Eagles, they held off DR Congo to clinch bronze in their third-place playoff match. It was Bafana Bafana’s best finish at the continental spectacle since 2000 — when they also won bronze.

Bafana Broos

Mothobi Mvala of South Africa (left) challenges Victor Osimhen of Nigeria (centre) during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations at Peace Stadium in Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire. 7 February 2024. (Photo: Djaffar Ladjal/BackpagePix)

Broos believes his team can continue riding that wave and earn the required points towards boosting their World Cup qualification hopes.

“Everybody knows that all of us want to qualify for the World Cup in 2026. But we are facing two very tough games,” Hugo Broos told journalists ahead of the two crunch ties.

“First of all, Nigeria, who were finalists at Afcon. With players who are playing in the best leagues in Europe.

On the other hand, we showed what we can do against them at Afcon. If we had a little bit more luck on our side, we were going to be in the final and not Nigeria. We were the best team. So, we don’t have to be afraid,” the Belgian mentor stated.

Zimbabwe were unable to compete at Afcon due to a Fifa ban imposed on them for government interference in the running of the sport. They are now officially back and Broos anticipates that they will be a tricky prospect to navigate past.

“The other game, against Zimbabwe, is different. A game between neighbours. After their ban last year, they have a new team and a new coach. From that aspect, it will be a tough game. But if you see our performances over the last six months, we have to be confident. We have to believe in our chances,” the 72-year-old said.

“For us to achieve our goal, our target has to be at least four points. I do not want to lose any of these two games. That means we’ll stay in the race for qualifying for the World Cup,” Broos stated.

Sphephelo Sithole of Bafana

Sphephelo Sithole of Bafana (left) and Victor James Osimhen of Nigeria during their Afcon clash. (Photo: Segun Ogunfeyitimi/Gallo Images)

The bigger picture

Between last qualifying for the World Cup on merit in 2002 (they participated as hosts in 2010) and only sporadically qualifying for Afcon over the last few years, Bafana Bafana’s reputation in international and continental soccer has taken a severe beating.

However, Broos believes that since their Afcon displays in Ivory Coast a few months ago, this has changed a bit. The Belgian opines that a World Cup qualification would further enhance South Africa’s soccer scene.

“Being qualified for big tournaments like Afcon and the World Cup is very important for a country,” Broos stated.

“You see what happened after our third-place finish in Afcon. Suddenly everyone was saying “Wow. South Africa.” It’s important for South African football. But it’s also important for South African players. Suddenly, there is interest,” the Belgian, who has coached Bafana since May 2021, added.

“It’s very important that we qualify, after so many years and a good performance at Afcon.”

Though the journey remains a lengthy one, positive results in these two fixtures will add more glow to Bafana Bafana’s aura, which they are regaining match by match under Broos. DM

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