2010 road begins

2008-10-10 00:00

WHAT a pleasure it will be to be Nigerian at around 7 pm today. Another big crowd will turn out this afternoon to watch Nigeria wrap up their African Nations Cup second-round qualifying campaign with an inevitable victory over Sierra Leone at the airy National Stadium in Abuja.

Just 628 km away, in Equatorial Guinea’s tiny capital, Malabo, Bafana Bafana will be trying to bring their disastrous campaign to a close with a glimmer of a silver lining. It has been a long time since South Africa were regarded as an African powerhouse to mention in the same breath as Nigeria, and today’s polar opposite situations are a clear indication of that.

Nigeria, who have won every game in Group Four so far, progress to the next qualifying stage where, ironically, qualification for Angola becomes a little easier, with the top three teams out of four going through to the Nations Cup. Bafana? They will pack their bags for home even before reaching Angola.

One hopes Nigeria finish top of their group in the next round to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. They are a superb team, packed with potential. They toyed with Bafana in Abuja in a 2-0 victory, then beat South Africa in Port Elizabeth having created only two chances against 16.

Unlike Bafana at the moment, they know how to win, and will be a force at 2010 should they qualify.

But where does this all leave troubled Bafana? Certainly, coach Joel Santana could do with a victory today to gain some positive impetus in what has been a nightmare start.

When Bafana beat Equatorial Guinea 4-1 in Santana’s second match in charge, it seemed the bombshell departure of Carlos Alberto Parreira might not send out more than a ripple after all. That was horribly optimistic.

In that game, Bafana were still playing largely to Parreira’s style of retaining possession and quick-passing attacking, which had resulted in a 3-0 friendly victory over Paraguay in the coach’s last match.

But slowly things unravelled, and now South Africa are seeking to add to that lone victory over Equatorial Guinea in June to avoid finishing bottom of Group Four. They will do so with their strongest possible squad, barring a few injuries, most notably to Steven Pienaar and Elrio van Heerden.

Even with those two absentees, Bafana have more than enough firepower to comfortably dispatch of their opponents from a country whose population of 500 000 is the smallest on the continent. Barring, of course, the abysmal finishing and just plain poor luck in front of goal that has cost the team so heavily in these qualifiers.

South Africa need to put the ball in the net. Benni McCarthy seems to have slimmed down from the podgy figure that caused problems for Nigeria, but was not at his sharpest. Bernard Parker, who scored a brace in the 3-0 friendly victory over Malawi, might get a look in.

SuperSport United’s on-form left-wing Daine Klate scored the remaining goal against Malawi and deserves a run, while the return from injury of Maccabi Haifa left-back Tsepo Masilela could see Bradley Carnell relegated to the bench.

With the World Cup two years away, and Bafana now ranked 85th, there is a deep hole for the national team to climb out of. But they have to start somewhere, and Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, seems as good a place as any.

• Reuters reports that the race to decide Africa’s World Cup representatives and qualifiers for the 2010 Afcon will be whittled down to 20 teams this weekend.

Benin, Cameroon and Nigeria are already through to the draw in Zurich later this month where the final 20 candidates will be divided into five groups, the winners of which reach the World Cup, and the top three the Nations Cup.

Kickoff: 5 pm SA time — live on SABC1.

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