On paper, South Africa’s task against Libya on Sunday is a relatively straightforward one: avoid conceding a goal, and Bafana Bafana will book their place at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Egypt later this year.
Bafana take on Libya in their final AFCON qualifier in Sfax, Tunisia, currently occupying the second position in Group E, two points above Sunday’s opponents.
That means that a 0-0 draw will be enough for them to go through – the same scoreline to which the teams played to in Durban in September last year.
Coach Stuart Baxter revealed that he has spent a lot of time analysing the match at the Moses Mabhida Stadium ahead of this weekend’s showdown, and key for Baxter is to keep a tight lid on the Mediterranean Knights’ wing-play.
Instead of lining up with a 4-3-3 as he did in Durban, it’s looking likely he will deploy a 4-4-2 system where South Africa’s two wide midfielders will need to track back and help out with defensive duties.
“Looking at the game [in Durban]‚ I wouldn’t say they pierced us with their good play,” he said.
“And when they did it was from flank play. Watching them play well in their other games‚ their successes were down the flanks. What Libya did was they utilised some of our mistakes when we were getting a bit impatient and stretching ourselves.
“So there were lessons to be learned there. Without revealing any of our strategy‚ one of the things we are going to have to do is negate their flank play.”
Setting out for a draw will however be a dangerous plan; to sit back and defend for 90 minutes against a pumped up Libya team would be inviting disaster.
It will be crucial that part of Bafana’s strategy is to put pressure on the Libyan rearguard, to give them something to think about rather than just inviting the opponents to dominate possession and territory and to launch wave after wave of attack.
Baxter thinks the France-based Mothiba, who missed the match in Durban through injury, could be crucial in unsettling the Mediterranean Knights.
“What [Libya] didn’t have that day was two strikers up against their centre-backs (instead, Percy Tau was flanked by Vincent Pule and Sibusiso Vilkazi, both of whom are absent from the current squad),” he explained.
“So the strike partnership of Percy and Lebo [Mothiba] through the middle they haven’t played against.”
Mothiba is still only 23 years old but is already being heralded as Bafana’s next big striking hope. He was on target in the French top flight last weekend for Strasbourg in a 2-2 draw with Nimes and has 10 league and cup goals to his name this season.
He also netted in South Africa’s last AFCON qualifier, the 1-1 draw with Nigeria in Johannesburg, and has scored four goals in his last five matches for his country.