Stark warning for Bafana
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
The dizzying run of shock results at the 2012 Africa Nations Cup offers a stark warning for South Africa in the upcoming 2014 Soccer World Cup qualifiers.
The exit of pre-tournament favourites Senegal and Morocco, after just two games each, is a clear indication that little is certain anymore in the continental game.
There used to be a very clearly defined pecking order in African football but it has been blurred by the results that have been delivered by alleged minnows Equatorial Guinea and Gabon and the performance of Libya and Niger. Even Botswana, albeit 6-1 losers on the weekend, showed the potential to cause an upset in their opening game at the tournament when they held Ghana to a lone goal in Franceville.
Botswana are in Bafana Bafana’s group for the next World Cup qualifiers. So are the Central African Republic and Ethiopia. Not exactly a line-up to set the sweat glands off.
Indeed, a few years ago it would be considered a stroll in the park for South Africa.
But the crisis of confidence around the national team at the moment, plus the closing of the gap between the supposed heavyweights and the chasing pack, suggests a tricky campaign lying ahead. I have no doubt the national coach realises the danger, but are the players and expectant fans ready for a tough route.
On paper South Africa should win every one of the six group games, both home and away. Their opponents are all sides made up mainly of home based players from mediocre leagues with few overseas-based players to strengthen them in terms of experience and aptitude.
But the Nations Cup tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon is showing those previously key factors are no longer as important.
There needs now to be a dogged fighting spirit, an atmosphere enthused by the home fans and a little luck as well. The attitude of the highly fancied Senegalese players backfired badly. They were arrogantly casual in their opening match and lost to Zambia. Then they panicked in their second game against Equatorial Guinea and ran out of ideas. They lost the third against Libya on Sunday night in a limp fashion that suggested they were completely shot of confidence. We will see how they perform against Bafana Bafana in a friendly on February 29.
The point is, it is amazing how a team’s fortunes can plummet so dramatically within a matter of three games.
South Africa will do well to be vigilant of these alleged minnows but at the same time confident enough to take the game to them and overwhelm their pretensions.
Ethiopia are the first opponents on the first weekend of June in a home match for South Africa. Then it is off to Gaborone on June 8 for a meeting with Botswana, who will be fired up to humiliate haughty neighbours. The frailties of the Zebras were all too evident on Saturday when Guinea hammered them 6-1 and they are not in South Africa’s class. But they think they are and they will have passionate crowd behind them. And that, as the Nations Cup is proving, is half the battle won.
Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.
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