Now, after a delightful performance against Burkina Faso on Saturday, the belief is back that Stuart Baxter’s side might just be able to beat Senegal twice next month, and put themselves on the plane to Russia.
Of course, it is still far more likely that Senegal, and not Bafana, will be going to the World Cup next year. Even if Bafana can beat the Teranga Lions at home (for the second time after Fifa ordered a replay of their “victory” over Senegal in Polokwane last November), it is hard to see them going to Dakar four days later and getting another three points.
But for now, it is nice to see a bit of a smile back on the face of South African football, a smile made for the most part in Mamelodi. Percy Tau, Themba Zwane and Sibusiso Vilakazi all wear the yellow of Masandawana and all were on the scoresheet at the FNB Stadium, in front of a poor attendance in the pouring rain. It might just be key for Stuart Baxter, given his own short time in charge of the national team, to carry on using players who are used to taking the field together at club level. The SuperSport United pairing of Morgan Gould and Clayton Daniels also did extremely well on Saturday in the heart of the Bafana defence.
It has to be a blow to Bafana and Baxter that Bongani Zungu and Andile Jali will both be suspended for the home clash with Senegal at the Peter Mokaba Stadium on November 10 (Jali will be back for the away game, Zungu probably won’t). On the other hand, another Matsatsantsa man will be back from suspension for that game, in Dean Furman, as will Kaizer Chiefs defender Erick Mathoho.
Bafana need to continue to show they have the squad depth to cope with injuries and suspensions, as they did against Burkina Faso, where they were also missing injured captain Thulani Hlatshwayo.
If I were Baxter, I would actually be tempted to continue with Itumeleng Khune as captain against Senegal, even if Hlatshwayo is fit. The Wits skipper is more of a silent leader on the field, setting an example with actions rather than words. Khune is more brazen, screaming at his defence, leading from the back, if you like, and his performance against Burkina Faso merely illustrated again how badly missed he was in the two defeats to Cape Verde. He hobbled from the field with an ankle problem after the Stallions game, and to me, more than any other player, it is essential for Bafana’s hopes that Khune is fit to fight next month.
Bafana are going to need to be at their absolute best over both games if they are to beat Senegal twice, while they will also probably need a fair smattering of luck, too. But at least we are in a position to say that they have a fighting chance of qualifying for the World Cup. Last month that seemed frankly laughable.
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