A six-hour flight, two hours of immigration clearance and a further three hours travel by road to their final destination...
These were the first hurdles Bafana Bafana had to clear ahead of their meeting with Ghana in a crucial World Cup qualifier tonight.
The mind games began as soon as the team’s chartered plane touched down in the capital Accra at about 2pm local time.
A visibly weary squad of 23 players – who went to bed at midnight after a late-night kick-off in their 1-0 win over Zimbabwe on Thursday – grudgingly went through an immigration procedure at the Kotoka International Airport that needlessly dragged on for two hours.
These are some of the harsh realities that often confront African national teams and clubs in their travels to honour official fixtures away from home across the continent.
Even Bafana coach Hugo Broos questioned the logic behind the Ghanaians deserting Accra, which has a number stadiums that hosted Afcon finals not so long ago. He said:
“When you see that Ethiopia can play two games in Bahir Dar and then suddenly the stadium is not approved by Fifa; [when] we have to travel three hours [to the Cape Coast], why?” asked Broos during an interview at the team’s base in Cape Coast yesterday.
“The driver of the bus told me it’s because they don’t have an approved stadium in Accra. If you don’t have an appropriate location then don’t play the qualifiers.”
The port city – known for its role in the transatlantic slave trade in the 17th century – is about a 150km drive from Accra.
However, the distance becomes longer due to heavy traffic and bad road conditions.
It was reserve goalkeeper Veli Mothwa and his amapiano beats that blasted from his boom blast speaker that made the long-haul journey seem short and kept his exhausted team-mates going.
“It’s not possible in 2021 to go through all these things to play a game. This is not fair, but this is not an excuse. It is also something that you need to control as a professional,” bemoaned Broos.
With the off-field problems aired out, the real game awaits Broos and his team at 7pm (9pm South African time) tonight.
Bafana are on the brink of qualification to the third and final round of the qualifiers to the Qatar World Cup.
Broos and his troops must avoid defeat against the Black Stars, who need a win at all costs to overhaul Bafana at the summit of Group G.
- After five group matches, South Africa have 13 points, three ahead of Ghana (10);
- The minimum result that Bafana require in tonight’s match is a draw;
- A win for Ghana will mean that the Black Stars end the campaign equal on points (13) and therefore South Africa will be eliminated;
- As this is a Fifa competition, goal difference and goals scored will apply to determine the rankings in the event that two teams are tied on points;
- South Africa have a goal difference of +5 to Ghana’s +3. This means that even a 1-0 win for Ghana will still eliminate Bafana because the two sides have each scored six goals in the campaign so far;
- A 1-0 victory for the Black Stars will bring goal difference between them to +4. If this is the case, the team with the most goals scored will go through, meaning Ghana would have had seven.
Fellow group members Ethiopia and Zimbabwe – who also face off today – have already been eliminated in the race as they have accumulated fewer points.
The Ethiopians did Bafana a huge favour with a 1-1 draw against Ghana at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Thursday.
On the same day, South Africa responded with a 1-0 win over Zimbabwe, courtesy of a Teboho Mokoena goal.
Broos admitted that “two or more” goals against the Warriors would have eased things up, but he put on a brave face ahead of what is set to be a tense final day in the battle for berths in the play-offs that will start in March.
He admitted that he almost fumbled the interpretation of the permutation.
“After the game against Zimbabwe, I was a little bit confused about goal average and stuff. But I didn’t look at it. I thought Ghana had to score twice, [but that] was not [correct]. If they win we are out and the rest we are in. For me, the most important thing is to beat Ghana.”
The 69-year-old who succeeded Molefi Ntseki in May has urged the “real Bafana” to pitch up tonight as South Africa seeks an elusive win over Ghana away from home.
Bafana beat them 1-0 through a late Bongokuhle Hlongwane goal in their first round meeting in Johannesburg two months ago.
Broos has constantly reminded the current team not to repeat the capitulation of the Afcon qualifiers this March, when South Africa lost against Sudan where a draw would have been enough to see Bafana through to the continental championships in Cameroon next year.
He said Bafana are in a similar situation today, with the only difference being that Ghana are a better team than Sudan.
“We don’t have to lose the game; that’s all [we need].”
South Africans, however, will not forget that Ghana also had a say in South Africa not qualifying for next year’s Afcon after they beat Bafana 2-0 at the same Cape Coast a year ago.
“The only big mistake we can make is to defend from the first minute. We have already done the job. We have 13 points.
“If we don’t succeed, it won’t be a disaster because we are a team that has existed only three months,” said Broos in reference to the new-look Bafana.
“For Ghana, it’s more important for them to be at the World Cup because they belong on the list of the best teams in Africa. Again, anything is possible in football, but they are under pressure.”
Both teams are laced with talent in their teams ahead of their latest meeting.
Mothowagae is in Ghana as a guest of Safa