OPINION: Motivation the key to Bafana going to Russia 2018
Where there’s a will‚ there’s a way. The old English proverb in many ways sums up what’s left of Bafana Bafana’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
Well‚ kind of. The old cliche implies more that when no apparent solution is available‚ then with will‚ or determination‚ it can be resolved.
Bafana know what their solution is. Beat Senegal twice after a chameleon-like‚ eventful campaign that has been overseen by two coaches‚ seen a win annulled by Fifa‚ two disastrous defeats against Cape Verde and a rebound against Burkina Faso‚ and South Africa will go to Russia 2018.
The mission is very clear. Two wins‚ in Polokwane on November 10 then Dakar on November 14 in perhaps the most important four days of the current Bafana generation’s careers and lives‚ will be enough‚ regardless of other results.
So it is clear what needs to be done. Bafana‚ of course‚ are just not entirely sure of they can do it‚ and the country even less so.
But there is one factor‚ more than any other – as displayed by the disasters against Cape Verde‚ then good win against Burkina‚ and also shown in the now-annulled 2-1 victory against Senegal – that stands out with the potential to maximise Bafana’s chances.
It might sound simplistic‚ but it is: motivation.
If Bafana have the will‚ they can have a way.
Perhaps‚ let’s not get our hopes up again. As we did after the away draw against Burkina and win against Senegal left they way open for Bafana in Group D should they have beaten Cape Verde twice last month.
Those opportunities are gone. The manner in which they were spurned gives Bafana and their coach‚ Stuart Baxter‚ mistakes to learn from.
But Cape Verde were a mediocre side made to look good by Bafana statically-arranged by Baxter‚ and overconfident among the players.
Senegal have players at big clubs – the English Premiership-based pair of Idrissa Gueye of Everton and West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate started against Cape Verde. On paper they are stronger than Bafana.
But not by as much as most South Africans‚ now in an inward-turning spiral of negativity about the national team‚ might believe.
And if Bafana can be – to borrow an expression‚ slightly altered‚ from former Sports Minister Fikile “Razzmatazz” Mbalula – “a bunch of prima donnas”‚ then Senegal can even more so.
Their win against Cape Verde this weekend in Praia was just the second of their campaign. Their previous one came in their first game‚ also against Cape Verde‚ at home.
They also lost against Bafana once in the match farcically annulled. In that game it was evident – and it was a point alluded to by Lions of Teranga coach Aliou Cisse ahead of the game‚ that Bafana’s greater contingent of players based in their own country resulted in an edge in cohesiveness for SA.
Senegal’s squad against Cape Verde had players based in 12 different countries‚ and not one at home.
And their underachievement since announcing themselves as a world force with that famous 2002 World Cup victory against holders France‚ and quarterfinal place‚ has been well documented.
They have not qualified for the World Cup since. After being Africa Cup of Nations runners-up in 2002‚ since 2010 Senegal have not qualified for two and went out in the group stage in 2012 and 2015‚ from the last four tournaments.
This against a backdrop of questions over commitment of their big-club stars to the national cause.
But this should not be the contest of who can be the least a prima donna.
This should be a contest of a fired-up‚ super-determined‚ keyed-up South Africa‚ with a good gameplan provided by Baxter‚ against a dangerous Senegal with a return to the World Cup in their nostrils‚ but with question marks in unity.
Baxter brought in sports psychologist Martin Scheepers ahead of Saturday's 3-1 Burkina win at FNB Stadium and said the players had reacted well.
If there are question marks among the fickle South African players over Baxter – which the coach will not have helped himself with with his suspect lineups against Cape Verde – then let them be put aside.
Those were just Baxter’s second and third matches in charge. The mistakes were costly because they might have lost SA a Russia 2018 place. But the coach showed in his first‚ epic win against Nigeria‚ then again against Burkina‚ that he can come up with an effective‚ clever gameplan.
Simply what's needed is buy-in from the players‚ giving the coach a chance‚ and in turn Baxter rewarding them with a credible plan. And most importantly: motivation.
Senegal are not unbeatable. Motivation can be an issue for them.
Their star player‚ Liverpool striker Sadio Mane‚ looks certain to be out injured. Beat them in Polokwane‚ and the cracks in their not convincingly-solid facade can show.
Then‚ in Dakar‚ who knows?