Polokwane - Despite Wednesday’s draw, Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba believes the country remains on track for qualification to next year’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Morocco.
Bafana Bafana player ratings vs Congo
Congo held South Africa to a goalless draw in the fourth Group A qualifier in Polokwane, on a night where a win would have booked a ticket to Morocco.
"I don’t think there is anything that will make us press panic buttons, we’re still on track," Mashaba said after the game at Peter Mokaba Stadium.
Bafana remain in control of group A with eight points from their four games, but will have to beat Sudan or Nigeria to guarantee a place among the top two teams in the group, both of which progress to the 2015 Cup of Nations.
The highly-anticipated return fixture fizzled out somewhat in a soaking wet Polokwane, four days after South Africa claimed a priceless 2-0 victory in Pointe Noire to put the team in pole position in the group.
Although the talk throughout the week was about sealing qualification with two games to spare, Mashaba said his team refused to pay attention to the expectations of the local media, who were already proclaiming South Africa’s triumphant qualification to the biennial competition.
"We’re not disappointed. We should play six games in this tournament and we still have another two games, that’s six points, we have to make sure that we get the maximum out of the two games," Mashaba said.
"Whether we would have sealed it up today or not. I’ve seen most of the headlines, talking about 'it’s going to be done today'. We never spoke about it with the players.
"They might have read it in newspapers, but I don’t want to link it with this draw. But this thing of saying, 'we want to seal it today', was not in our plans."
Two wins from three qualifiers looked to have put South Africa in a comfortable position at the summit of the group, but Wednesday’s draw placed pressure on Mashaba and his troops.
The former national under-20 boss knows the importance of choosing the correct player for the big moment.
"From this game, there is one important thing that we learnt. When you’re at this crucial stage, you need players with a strong mentality.
"Players who will take things in the right way. Players who won’t be excited by the previous result.
"You want players who will always come with a different approach to these games."
It has been a bizarre set of results so far for Mashaba’s young Bafana.
Two out of two wins away from home, with five goals scored in the process.
Yet at home, where one expects to win in front of home supporters, South Africa were yet to score a goal, having drawn 0-0 with Nigeria in Cape Town last month, prior to Wednesday’s stalemate in Polokwane.
Mashaba believed the pressures of playing at home were far greater than abroad, due to the expectations of the local fans.
"Playing at home is not a luxury in the sense that when we’re away for a week there’s not so much noise (media attention) coming into our players’ ears.
"They focus on playing."
In the other group A fixture on Wednesday, African champions Nigeria bagged their first win of the qualifying campaign, beating Sudan 3-1 in Abuja.
Although still not out of danger, Nigeria now have four points from as many fixtures.
The defending champions took a step in the right direction, but would need to beat Congo or South Africa to stand any chance of qualifying second in the group.
Sudan are last in the group with three points.