Bafana Bafana take on Senegal this afternoon in Polokwane, in what looks a pivotal match, not just for the future of head coach Shakes Mashaba, but for the future of the game in this country.
South Africa badly need to gain some ground in the global game, after a decade and more being swamped by mediocrity. Bafana have not qualified for a World Cup since 2002.
Yes, they were there in 2010, but almost certainly only because they did not have to go through the qualification process. If Bafana are serious about making it to Russia 2018, they will probably need to beat the Teranga Lions at home.
Senegal are the clear group favourites, with a host of big names in the African game, like Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate and Everton’s Idrissa Gueye, in their ranks.
Aliou Cisse’s men are on a run of form that saw them romp to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Gabon and they already top Group D in World Cup qualifying, after a comfortable opening home win over Cape Verde.
With only the group winners going to Russia, and with just a point from their opening game in Burkina Faso, Bafana already have little room to manoeuvre.
Mashaba will hope for a repeat in Polokwane of what happened more than 13 years ago, when he led a Bafana side to a 2-1 win over a star-studded Cote D’Ivoire.
The difference is that that Bafana side had Shaun Bartlett, Benni McCarthy and Siyabonga Nomvethe in their ranks, three strikers of a far higher quality than any Bafana can offer today.
Perhaps Belgium-based Lars Veldwijk, called in by Mashaba as he searches for goals, can provide an answer, and give a huge boost to the nation. But the greater likelihood is that Mane and co will strike another dagger into the heart of the South African game.