Bafana’s path more complex than feared

2008-06-20 00:00

BAFANA Bafana’s progression to the African Nations Cup finals could be more complicated and on more of a knife edge than feared, even if they manage a solid victory in their qualifier against Sierra Leone in Pretoria tomorrow.

The South Africans have made their lives difficult in Group 4 following their 1-0 defeat against the Leoneans in Freetown at the weekend. A closer inspection of the Fifa rules on the qualification process shows things are more complex than assumed.

With Nigeria having won all three of their Group 4 matches so far to be on nine points, Bafana, in second place but with just three points, have resigned themselves to finishing runners-up at best. The eight best runners-up in the 12 groups go through to the next qualification round.

There, 20 teams will be divided into five groups, the winners of which will qualify for the 2010 World Cup. The top three will qualify for the Nations Cup in Angola in the same year.

As hosts South Africa do not have to qualify for the World Cup.

The complication is the defining of the second-placed teams in the current qualifying round.

With Eritrea having withdrawn from qualifying, Group 11 has been left with just three teams — Zambia, Swaziland and Togo.

This has forced Fifa to find the “fairest way of defining the eight best second-placed sides”.

The Fifa website explains that “once all the matches in the four-team groups have been played, the results between the second- and fourth-placed sides will not be considered when comparing the second-placed teams’ respective records”.

At present Sierra Leone, whom Bafana lost to this weekend, are bottom of Group 4. South Africa will hope to beat the Leone Stars tomorrow to keep them in last place.

Should Equatorial Guinea fall to last place, Bafana’s 4-1 victory over them two weekends ago will become void, assuming South Africa finish second.

In a complicated scenario Bafana’s best hope will be to beat Equatorial Guinea in the final Group 4 match in Malabo on October 10, and that Sierra Leone will remain in last place.

Then the South Africans’ away defeat against Sierra Leone will become void in comparison to the other second-placed teams, while their two victories over Equatorial Guinea will still count.

Crucially, if Bafana pull off an unlikely victory against nemesis team Nigeria at home on September 5, their progression through Group 4 to the next round would become far less uncertain.

Currently Bafana’s three points makes them the joint-worst runners-up in the round, along with Chad in Group 10 and Togo in Group 11.

What is certain is that the South Africans will need as many points as possible from their remaining three games to stand a chance of reaching Angola.

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