Bafana Bafana

Bafana games remain of critical value

Shakes Mashaba (Gallo Images)
Shakes Mashaba (Gallo Images)

Not to a considerably sombre degree what they were designed to be - but the forthcoming Bafana Bafana games against Mauritania and Egypt in their diminished guise over the next 10 days remain of critical importance in the long-term.

When Bafana face up to Mauritania at the Mbombela Stadium on Friday night in what is technically billed as a qualifying game for next year's African Nations Cup tournament, it is effectively no more than a phantom misnomer, with previous results having ensured that South Africa cannot qualify for next year's principle continental tournament in Gabon no matter what the result against the modest Mauritanians.

As for the Egyptian match-up on Tuesday night, its proclaimed status as this year's Nelson Mandela Challenge encounter is, with no disrespect for the rebuilt Egyptian combination, hardly in line with the august stature envisaged when the event to honour the great man was initiated 20 years ago.

Initially, it must be recalled, with some of the biggest drawcards in world soccer, among them number one at the time and five-times former World Cup winners Brazil, current World Cup champions Germany and former champions Argentina providing the opposition for Bafana, the Nelson Mandela games were imbued with an appropriate element of grandeur.

Not so it can be said of the run-of-the-mill match-up at Orlando Stadium, despite Egypt, with a world ranking of 43rd, providing more than adequate opposition for 64th ranked South Africa.

So what is truly the challenge for Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba and his able assistant, Owen de Gama, is to formulate in the process a suitable line-up from what will be the final two official international games before the start of the all-important World Cup qualifiers early in October.

It is in these games, starting with an away encounter against Burkina Faso and including additional home-and-away encounters against Senegal and Cape Verde, that South African soccer approach, as though perched on a precipice leading to either beckoning optimism or one emphasising further the recent, deflating results of national teams of different categories.

Apart for the somewhat embarrassing failure of Bafana to make it to Gabon, South Africa were eliminated in the opening round at the Olympic Games after failing to win any of their three games, while the national under-17 team's inability to progress to the finals of the CAF continental tournament at their own age-limit has placed a spoke in the wheel of SAFA's  proclaimed, distant "Vision 2022” programme.

In a nutshell, therefore, qualifying for the World Cup Finals in Russia in 2018 would, to a large extent, re-open the gates of optimism.

Failure to achieve this might be construed as the last straw in leaving a stuttering SAFA in crisis.

And with only one team from South Africa, Senegal, Cape Verde and Burkina Faso earning a place in the global showpiece in Russia, it is a challenging task indeed - with both a star-studded Senegal and Cape Verde enjoying higher rankings right now than Bafana.

That is what makes the Mauritania and Egyptian games of such urgency for Mashaba and De Gama - in compiling the foundation of a combination capable of overcoming Senegal, Cape Verde and Burkina Faso when it will matter even more.

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