Zero hour for Bafana in Cup qualifier
Unless Bafana Bafana suddenly burst into the form they were in against Nigeria in June, Burkina Faso might be the ones improving their poor record against them in a make or break World Cup qualifier at FNB Stadium on Saturday.
The teams have met eight times with Bafana having four wins and three draws.
The on-form Stallions' one and only win came in Ouagadougou in a World Cup qualifier in 2005 when Abdoulaye Cisse's two goals helped them beat Bafana 3-1. Both teams failed though to go to Germany 2006 as the six-team group was won by Ghana.
This time the pendulum has swung in favour of the Burkinabe whose team is now peppered with a number of big names (see below) and is unbeaten in these qualifiers. Also to the Stallions' advantage is that Bafana Bafana are very low on confidence after two humiliating defeats in Praia and Durban against Cape Verde early this month.
Visibly shaken Baxter
As if those defeats were not calamity, coach Stuart Baxter will have his hands full when he's reunited with his troops tomorrow. Baxter has some off-the-field matters to chew on with his players, some of whom were fingered in media reports as having had a wild night in a Durban hotel after the second defeat to Cape Verde.
"Certainly they will know of my displeasure. Whatever I say here you can multiply by 10 what I will be saying to them. I can imagine the frustration and the anger of everyone following our poor results against Cape Verde," said Baxter.
SA Football Associaton CEO Dennis Mumble also told the Sunday Times this week that they'll double their security around Bafana ahead and after the match following the foolish after-match events of Durban.
"We will definitely increase our security around the team to ensure there are no security lapses," said Mumble, who added that they'll also employ the services of a proven sports psychologist to help motivate and increase the mental capacity of the players.
Baxter talked much about the pace and the importance of employing it against the strongly built Burkinabe players. However, his decision to leave out Bafana's best striker in recent years, Tokelo Rantie, left many scratching their heads.
"Burkina Faso present a completely different set of challenges but we want to give them as much mobility as we can while trying to avoid losing out physically," he said.
Baxter said Rantie was not included because he got a red card and a three-match ban at his Turkish club Genèlerbirligi which meant he was not active enough.
Baxter's argument on form and the recent suspension was not convincing though as Rantie is one player who would have given plenty of pace upfront against Burkina Faso. His recent two goals, one in Uyo and the consolation in Praia, indicate his consistency in the Bafana shirt no matter his form at club level.
Baxter was also criticised for selecting Kaizer Chiefs defender Eric Mathoho, who recently returned to his team starting line-up after getting red cards both at club level and in the first match against Cape Verde. Mathoho's form has also been suspect this season.
Mathoho's red card was on Thursday turned into a two-match suspension by Fifa, which means Baxter will have to find a replacement for him anyway.
Rubbing salt into Bafana's wounds is their now nullified 2-1 win over Senegal in November last year which governing body Fifa has ordered replayed before the return leg on November 6. Fifa banned the Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey for match-fixing and Safa have indicated that they won't appeal against Fifa's ruling, meaning Bafana will meet the Stallions carrying the only point they earned against them in Ouagadougou in October.
Baxter acknowledged the huge task ahead, saying they'll have to treat the remaining three qualifiers as do or die ties.
"Mathematically we can still make it to Russia. We have to take every game left as a World Cup final because that's what it is for us," said Baxter, whose five-year contract with Safa will no doubt come under scrutiny if Bafana fail to take full points on Saturday.