Bafana Bafana face treacherous journey on the road to World Cup qualifiers

2013-03-26 00:00

CAPE TOWN — For all the satisfaction generated by a first win in their African qualifying group for World Cup 2014, South Africa may still be looking at a minimum requirement of two wins from their remaining three games if they are to nudge closer to the Brazil-hosted spectacle.

Following unsatisfactory 1-1 draws against Ethiopia (home) and Botswana (away) to begin their Group A winning quest on a poor note, for Bafana Bafana to beat Central African Republic at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday was crucial.

They won 2-0, producing some of their best football in the closing stages when they really should have added further strikes.

Whether goal difference comes back to haunt them at a later stage remains to be seen, but it does seem increasingly likely that they will have to target victories against at least two of Central African Republic (in the swift return fixture in Bangui on June 7), Ethiopia (also away, on June 14) and neighbours Botswana in the closing fixture at home on September 6.

The biggest prize will be to topple the Ethiopians in Addis Ababa, as they lead the group standings at the midway mark with seven points, two clear of second-placed Bafana on five.

The bottom two are not yet out of contention, although Botswana, in the basement, are confirmed early goners if they fail to beat Ethiopia in their home fixture on June 7.

South Africans will still be ruing their failure — while Bafana were under the temporary coaching tutelage of Steve Komphela following Pitso Mosimane’s sacking — to hold onto a 1-0 early initiative given them to by Morgan Gould in Gaborone.

Botswana fought back then for a 1-1 outcome, earning them their only point thus far.

It was always going to make the onward journey treacherous, and little has changed since the heartening win over Central African Republic, especially because of the extra dose of poignancy (and perhaps even uncertainty) the return clash will have after the killing of many South African soldiers by rebels there on Sunday.

Making matters tougher for Gordon Igesund and company was the news that Ethiopia, also on Sunday, banged in an 88th-minute winner to pip Botswana — a goalless draw would have left them level-pegging with South Africa, but instead a two-point cushion was achieved.

Both Bafana and the Ethiopians must play two of their three remaining obligations away: the comfort for the latter is that their home game is against the South Africans, whilst Bafana will certainly believe at this stage that the closing visit of Botswana is a very winnable affair in early spring considering the likelihood that the guests will have nothing at stake.

So how steely the national side can be in the two away dates in the interim will really be the key.

For the benefit of those who have asked, it is worth pointing out that simply winning the group is not enough for Bafana to bank a passage to Brazil.

There are 10 such qualifying groups in Africa, with only five berths for the World Cup tournament up for grabs, so the winners of all 10 — there is no room for any “best-placed runners-up” or anything like that — will advance to a round of five two-legged knockout ties.

Those nerve-jangling, ultra high-stakes matches will be played in two prescribed periods reserved for them in mid-October and mid-November.

The draw date for the games and actual match-ups will only be revealed by the Fifa World Cup 2014 organising committee upon completion of the current group phase.

For the record, leaders in the various other groups are Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Zambia, Congo, Nigeria, Egypt, Mali, Cameroon and Senegal.

Only two of those can be branded runaway leaders — Tunisia in Group B and Congo in Group E. Both have 100% records at the halfway point.

Bafana still have an arduous journey, despite the pleasing Cape Town Stadium outcome.

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