Johannesburg - Bafana Bafana have been given a second glimmer of hope as South Africa's prospects of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup continued to tip-toe back from the dead on Wednesday.
This emerged when a Fifa spokesman in Zurich confirmed that in tournaments organised by the world governing body, goal difference was deemed the initial deciding factor when teams finished level on points at the top of their qualifying table.
"This can be confirmed on page 24 of the 2014 World Cup regulations and applies to all qualifying procedures on the various continents, not simply those involving African teams," said the Fifa spokesman.
In tournaments under direct control of the Confederation of African Football, the results between the two level teams is the deciding factor.
Owing to the confusion around this ruling, South Africa failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in bizarre fashion, despite finishing with a superior goal difference to eventual qualifiers Niger and performing a victory lap after their last qualifying fixture.
Effectively completely out of the reckoning following the 2-1 defeat to Ethiopia on Sunday, the first glimmer of hope for Bafana emerged when Fifa revealed shortly after the match in Addis Ababa that Ethiopia's victory against Botswana on June 8 was being investigated.
The Walia Antelopes were alleged to have fielded a player who received two yellow cards in previous games and should have been suspended, with the Ethiopian Football Federation later admitting the error.
If Fifa chose to implement a 3-0 defeat on Ethiopia, which is the mandatory penalty for fielding an ineligible player, Bafana would trail the group leaders by two points, rather than five, and hold a superior goal difference heading into the last of the second-round matches.
South Africa, who face Botswana at home in September, could then progress to the third round, provided Ethiopia were to either draw or lose against Central African Republic in an away fixture.
Kirsten Nematandani, president of the SA Football Association (Safa), said the organisation would take each permutation as it materialised.
"At this juncture we don't even know what Fifa will decide regarding their investigation into the Ethiopia-Botswana match," Nematandani said.
"Then we have to face the fact that Ethiopia would still be two points ahead of us going into the group's last round of qualifying matches, even if the ruling goes against them.
"But yes, we are in a better situation now than after the heartbreak of losing in Addis Ababa."