Bafana gearing up for one of the most important games the national team has ever faced
Bafana Bafana’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde in Praia on Friday night might be one of the most important games the national team has ever faced.
Win on the artificial surface of the 15 000-seater Estadio Nacional de Cabo Verde (kicoff: 8.30pm SA time) and Cape Verde’s already slim World Cup hopes will be dashed.
South Africa would then be confident of the return victory in Durban on Tuesday.
Two wins‚ especially taking into account the two more-than-likely tight West African derbies between Burkina Faso and Senegal‚ would leave South Africa in the driving seat for their first World Cup qualification since 2002.
That qualification would confirm a turnaround in South Africa football‚ and the emergence of a generation with the potential to finally replace the successful 1996 Africa Cup of Nations-winning to 2002 World Cup-qualifying line-ups.
A failure to qualify will have meant that Mulomowandau Mathoho‚ Keagan Dolly‚ Bongani Zungu‚ Themba Zwane et al were just not quite ready yet.
It’s no wonder Stuart Baxter has cautioned against getting ahead of ourselves.
The Bafana coach admitted after his first training session in Praia that winning this match would set the tone in Group D.
“Yes it will‚ but I can’t say if Senegal are going to beat Burkina Faso‚ or those two will draw. So I don’t know how much it will set the tone‚” Baxter said.
“And if we win this and then we only take a point at home‚ we throw it away. So every game is vital now.
“We need to be here and now‚ super-present‚ and make sure that we bite off this next challenge‚ which is Cape Verde.”
Baxter got just about everything right – from research of the opposition‚ to a tailor-made gameplan practised in training sessions – in his first‚ and previous‚ major match when he opened his tenure with Bafana’s first competitive win against Nigeria.
The coach said he has attempted to replicate the formula from that Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Uyo in June for the trip to the tiny island nation‚ population 540 000‚ off the coast of West Africa.
“One of the main things we had going for us for Nigeria was that we had such a buzz – such a good vibe and a positive feel‚” he said.
“So‚ I think‚ looking at that we were trying to promote that and recreate the same sort of feeling.
“It’s been very hot‚ it’s been a long trip. When we started training it was a bit subdued.
“But very quickly you saw that competitive spirit coming out and I think that at the finish of training we were playing some very good football.
“I think if you look at this game isolated‚ we think we have a good chance of winning. So we’re not going for a point‚ we’re going for a win.”
Cape Verde strengthened their football by sourcing players with birth rights from Portugal‚ resulting in a 2013 Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal appearance and qualification in 2015.
The 114th-ranked team have lost 2-0 twice‚ against Senegal away and Burkina Faso at home‚ in the Russia 2018 qualifiers.
Bafana drew 1-1 away against Burkina Faso and beat Senegal 2-1 at home.
SA are in second place to Burkina Faso on goal difference in Group D on four points.