Bafana, beware the little guys

2015-04-12 15:00

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With only the group winners and the two teams with the highest points in second place guaranteed to join hosts Gabon at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals, Bafana Bafana are expected to battle it out with Cameroon for top spot in Group M.

Finishing second in a group is rarely enough to qualify, so the South Africans cannot afford any complacency.

Bafana and the Indomitable Lions played to a 1-1 draw earlier this year in a friendly match in Gabon.

Interestingly, the team played their first international game against the same opponents back in 1992.

South Africa and Cameroon are expected to continue their rivalry in the qualifiers after being drawn together, but they should be aware of a possible “banana peel” – as they might slip up against minnows Mauritania and Gambia.

There are no easy draws in international football, to which former Bafana coaches Pitso Mosimane and Gordon Igesund can attest.

After being drawn against Ethiopia, Botswana and the Central African Republic in qualifiers for the 2014 Fifa World Cup, Bafana were expected to walk over their opponents. But this was not the case – they finished second behind Ethiopia and missed out on the chance to go to Brazil.

Coach Shakes Mashaba is well aware of that scenario, and has already said he would not take Mauritania and Gambia lightly.

For Bafana to qualify for the finals, they will have to target the two minnows for maximum points – not that they cannot rack up points against the Indomitable Lions.

South Africa was holding its breath, hoping for a favourable draw, and the nation’s wish was apparently granted, as Bafana have avoided some of the continent’s top guns.

Despite coming up against four-time winners Cameroon, the presence of 120th- and 156th-ranked teams Mauritania and Gambia, respectively, means this is considered a relatively easy group for the senior squad.

But Mashaba disagrees, pointing out there are no longer any easy draws.

“Some may see this as a relatively easy group. On paper, it is, but on the field it is a different story altogether.

“I have said before that there are no easy matches in international football any more.

“Football has changed, and every country will give it a go,” said Mashaba in reaction to the draw.

“While we may know a lot about Cameroon, not much is said about Gambia and Mauritania, and those could be our banana peels.

“We have to do what we did during the 2015 qualifiers – be brave, show no respect, but above all, prepare thoroughly and take nothing for granted,” he added.

Under Mashaba’s guidance, Bafana Bafana pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the 2015 Afcon qualifiers by finishing top of their group without losing a single game.

To crown it all, they denied defending champions the Super Eagles of Nigeria a chance at the finals.

Bafana are ranked 16th in Africa and, in Group M, are not far behind ninth-placed Cameroon, who had a dismal showing at the World Cup in Brazil last year. They showed some improved form at Afcon earlier this year, but still finished last in their group.

Both Mauritania and Gambia have not previously qualified for the Fifa World Cup or Afcon finals.

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