Which Bafana will turn up on Friday?

Stuart Baxter during the South African national men's soccer team training session at FNB Stadium. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Bafana Bafana need to create a sense of déjà vu in Polokwane on Friday night against Senegal if they are to keep alive their hopes of making it to Russia 2018.

The celebrations at the end of the 2-1 victory over Aliou Cisse’s side at the Peter Mokaba Stadium on November 12, 2016 have been rendered null and void by Fifa, after their decision to replay this match, on the back of a life ban for Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey.

That Thulani Hlatshwayo penalty? It doesn’t exist (it shouldn’t have existed in the first place, so fair enough). That Thulani Serero brilliant finish/total mis-kick for Bafana’s second? Nope, it wasn’t there.

Shakes Mashaba’s extraordinary pitch-side rant? Well apparently that did happen, because Mashaba is still not the Bafana Bafana coach, Stuart Baxter is.

Unlucky for you Shakes, I guess. Anyway, on Friday night, back at the Peter Mokaba, hopefully we have a referee that will not be charged for match manipulation, and hopefully, for fans of Bafana, we have a similar result, to keep South African World Cup hopes alive right down to the wire, and the return match in Dakar on November 14.

For this to happen, Baxter’s side will probably have to play out of their skins. Senegal are clearly the strongest side in Group D on paper, packed with talent across some of Europe’s top leagues, from England, to Italy, to France, to Belgium, to Turkey.

They have their talisman, Sadio Mane, fit again after a miraculous recovery from a hamstring injury picked up in the qualifier in Cape Verde in October, and they no doubt have a burning desire not just to qualify for Russia, which winning in Polokwane will achieve, but also to prove that November 12, 2016 was an aberration, that they are right to have felt cheated, and that it is they who are by far the better side.

Bafana can have hope on the back of their performance against Burkina Faso in their last World Cup qualifier in October, when they tore the Stallions to shreds in a deserved win, and also on the back of their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Nigeria in June, when they stunned the Super Eagles on their own turf.

These two displays showed that Bafana can match Africa’s best on any given day, it is just that they are painfully inconsistent, as evidenced by the home-and-away defeats to Cape Verde in September, that put their World Cup campaign on the brink of disaster.

Can Bafana sustain a high level of performance over consecutive matches in Polokwane and Dakar?

I’m not so sure, and even if they can, they might well not manage to beat a powerful Senegal side twice. Baxter is cleverly talking of taking it one game at a time, which starts in Polokwane on Friday. Hopefully Bafana can at least win that one, and set up a dramatic evening next Tuesday.

So here’s to you, Serero, Hlatshwayo, and everyone who played in Polokwane a year ago and to those in the current Bafana squad who didn’t. May you repeat the defeat, and go off to Dakar with hope still in abundance.





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