Cape Town – South Africa have shifted a bit nearer the edge
of a knife in terms of Africa Cup of Nations 2015 qualification ... though they
also remain tantalisingly close to not having to worry about sharp instruments
of destruction at all.
Wednesday night’s soggy, humdrum goalless draw with Congo in
Polokwane keeps all four teams in Group A still mathematically in with a chance
of securing tickets to Morocco next year – even bottom-placed Sudan with one
win and three losses could still sneak into the top two if they unexpectedly
win both of their last two games and rocket to nine points.
But it is the Sudanese, quite possibly, who also hold the
all-important key to Bafana Bafana’s onward passage.
In short, a home victory for SA over those humble foes on
November 15 – just 1-0 would do very, very nicely – absolutely guarantees
qualifications for Bafana, as moving from eight to 11 points would be enough to
clinch the deal, regardless of whether the national side then ends in first or
second on the table.
Third-placed heavyweights Nigeria, back in winning ways
after beating Sudan 3-1 on Wednesday, can only get to a maximum of 10 points
with two fixtures left.
So the huge priority for Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba in the
next few weeks is to iron out the one quirky flaw in his otherwise improving
charges – a struggle to score home goals (current tally zero) in contrast to
their ability to rattle the bag elsewhere (five, including gratifyingly three
away to Sudan).
Perhaps he is right in saying that his often greenhorn
players have found it “less pressured” performing in more central parts of the
continent than in satisfying the expectations of a home faithful reasonably
well-schooled in recent doldrums years, let’s face it, in ridiculing them.
The one noticeable plus from the Polokwane game played in
heavy rain and sometimes thunder and lightning was that for a fourth group
clash on the trot, Bafana kept a clean defensive sheet.
They are now the lone holders, among 28 African teams, of a
perfect record in the “goals against” column – previously watertight Senegal
finally blotted their copybook in Group G as they conceded a 94th
minute winner to hosts Tunisia in a vital match, knocking them down to second
behind the Tunisians.
Given this reassuring parsimony at the back, it seems fairly
unlikely that labouring Sudan will spoil the SA record in mid-November ... only
adding to the tantalising thought that just one bullet from 30 yards out or an
ugly, deflected toe-poke in a goalmouth melee may well be enough to see Bafana
through to Morocco next month.
The match has only gained in importance, because not only
would failure to beat the FIFA world 133rd-ranked Sudan at home put a serious
dampener on the recent renaissance mood sparked by Mashaba’s methods, but it
would load the heat on Bafana to possibly have to achieve something that has
often before proved so well beyond them: winning in Nigeria.
South Africa must throw everything at Sudan, and certainly
display greater urgency and conviction than they did at Peter Mokaba Stadium,
to ensure that their closing toughie against a hoodoo team is about as dead as
the proverbial dodo ...
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