Bafana Bafana have been thrown into a tough group D, but it could have been worse for Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba’s team.
But just like the South Africans, the Senegalese, Burkinabe and Cape Verdeans are in a celebratory mood, having drawn Bafana in the 2018 Russia World Cup Africa Zone. Friday’s much-awaited draw may have been deemed a kind World Cup grouping for Bafana – but the same can be said about their opponents.
Only group winners will book a ticket to the finals.
Bafana will start and end their campaign on foreign soil. They will begin their quest to qualify for Russia with a trip to West Africa – visiting Burkina Faso in October – followed by a home match against Senegal in November.
They will then play Cape Verde back to back, in August and September next year.
Mashaba said he was happy with the draw, adding that it would not be smooth sailing for any side.
“We could not have asked for a kinder draw. I am happy, but that does not mean it is going to be easy.”
Former SA Football Association technical director Serame Letsoaka agreed that the matchup was kind, but cautioned against complacency.
He said Mashaba would have to do his homework thoroughly and prepare for what he called “taxing trips” to Burkina Faso and Senegal. But he was quick to add that Mashaba had improved the team with his magic touch.
“With Shakes we have always done well against the so-called big countries, and I am confident the same will happen and the boys will rise to the occasion,” said the Bloemfontein Celtic coach.
“When he took over, there were big teams in the Afcon (Africa Cup of Nations) qualifiers and he managed to beat them. Our boys have shown character in the previous games. Their confidence will be high and they will want to prove a point.”
Former Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane also believes the team gave a good account of itself in this showpiece.
“We are lucky we are not in the other group,” said Mosimane, referring to the group of death – Group B, comprising Zambia, Nigeria, Algeria and Cameroon.
He said Bafana would have to take their chances, particularly against Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, home and away.
“The gap is closing and people fear South Africa now. I really think we can get something out of Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, and I hope Senegal stumbles somewhere.
“But we have shown in the Afcon that we can match them and even beat them,” he said.
“Our players are no longer intimidated. We should play our own game, but we need to improve our defence as we concede most of the goals from the set pieces.”