Fortitude will be the operative word for Bafana Bafana on
their next continental adventure, something critics say they lack when the
going gets tough.
I’ve never subscribed to the theory that South Africa
players are too soft, having travelled extensively with them myself in the past
and seen at first hand the adversity they are oft put under.
It is no picnic out there and strangely, given the
increasing comforts of our modern age, does seem to be getting easier. But that
is not to proffer any excuses.
The draw for the 2017 African Nations Cup qualifiers will
take the team to both new vistas and tough climes and will be among the
toughest assignments most of the current squad have faced.
South Africa were drawn against Cameroon, Gambia and
Mauritania and while the latter two countries have little footballing pedigree
to boost of, Bafana have previously slipped in supposedly easy away games
against the likes of Niger, Sierra Leone and Mauritius.
Gambia and Mauritania both sit in the lower reaches of
the FIFA rankings and have never before qualified for the Nations Cup. They
won’t be expected to do so this time either but could yet have a decisive
impact on South Africa’s hopes.
Dispatching of inferior opposition and collecting points
where heavyweight teams are supposed to, is often where Bafana Bafana falls
short, particularly when compared with the ruthlessness that teams like
Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria show to minnows.
You can bet Cameroon will go to their Group M games away
against Gambia and Mauritania and win, as well as thrash them at home.
It means that to have any chance to finish top of the
group and qualify comfortably for the 2017 finals in Gabon, South Africa must
achieve the same and then seek to edge the Cameroonians in their two
head-to-head matches next March.
Both Cameroon and South Africa were among the form teams
in the 2015 qualifiers yet flopped at the tournament in Equatorial Guinea,
going home without a win after their three group games.
Both have sought in recent months to freshen up their
squads with young players, Cameroon taking a punt on an 18-year-old goalkeeper
without a senior game to his name for example and Bafana coach Ephraim Mashaba
plucking a few choices from obscurity too.
It is going to be a tough fight for both proud
footballing countries but the outcome of the group standings will likely be
determined by the matches against the other two teams in the group.
Mark Gleeson is a world-renowned soccer commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.
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