Johannesburg - This might be only the second game of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, but its results will go a long way in determining who will go to Russia in three years’ time.
In fact, the results of Saturday’s clash could have a bearing on the future of Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba, who is under tremendous pressure to get results, particularly after throwing away two points in their previous game against Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou.
The Lions of Teranga are top of the group with three points after their 2-0 victory over Cape Verde last month. Only a positive result could prolong Mashaba’s stay at the helm as calls for his dismissal have already started.
Mashaba knows that his head is on the block and that he needs a victory to safeguard his job. His SA Football Association (Safa) bosses have already hinted that heads could roll if things continue as they have been.
But looking at the Senegal team coming to play Bafana sends shivers down the spine as coach Aliou Cissé’s squad is made up of predominantly Europe-based players.
Liverpool striker Sadio Mané, who has scored four goals in the English Premiership so far, headlines the team, which also includes Stoke City striker Mame Biram Diouf and Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye.
However, Mashaba said he would devise a plan to stop the tough Senegalese, who are expected to use their height advantage to intimidate Bafana.
Mashaba said he expected his players to rise to the occasion and represent the country with pride. He could not overemphasise the importance of winning home matches.
If Bafana are to go to Russia in 2018, they would have to use the home ground advantage, starting with Saturday’s clash against group D favourites Senegal at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane.
Kickoff is at 15:00.
Weather could play a big part in the outcome of the game as the mercury is expected to rise above 30°C on Saturday. By taking the game to Polokwane, Safa was hoping to capitalise on the weather conditions, particularly with Senegal bringing mostly Europe-based players. But this might backfire on South African players, too.
The fact is Senegal is hot, and whether their players are based in Europe is neither here nor there as they were exposed to the heat at some point in their lives. Only last weekend, Itumeleng Khune complained that the heat made life difficult for the players during the Soweto derby.
Mashaba will be hoping to continue the team’s good run at home as he has not lost a game on home soil since he took over two years ago. The only downside is that they also struggle to win matches at home.
Bafana’s only victory at home was against Sudan in 2014, and they have drawn matches against Nigeria, Congo-Brazzaville, Gambia, Cameroon and Mauritania.
After missing the opening qualifier against Burkina Faso, midfielder Andile Jali returns to the squad. Mashaba has already displayed signs of desperation and panic as he called Bradley Grobler, who only returned to action a few days ago and Belgium-based unknown striker Lars Veldwijk, who plays for KV Kortrijk in Belgium.
Safa unveiled the new Bafana jersey recently, which will be on display at Peter Mokaba on Saturday. Can the new jersey inspire Bafana to notch their first victory in the World Cup qualifiers?
If this does not motivate the players to go all out, nothing will.