Bafana Bafana

Bafana: Still major slog to Russia!

2015-11-18 09:05
Shakes Mashaba (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Almost 10 000 kilometres separate Johannesburg from Moscow, and it serves as a sharp reminder that Bafana Bafana still have plenty to do if they wish to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

You might say that they at least left South African airspace, as it were, on Tuesday night ... but forests, deserts, high passes and seas are yet to be negotiated if Shakes Mashaba’s charges are to atone in three years’ time for their failure to reach the last tournament in Brazil in 2014.

South Africa did what was necessary, and little more than that, at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium by pipping Angola 1-0 to achieve a comfortable 4-1 aggregate triumph in their two-leg tussle for advancement to the group stages of African qualifying for the Russian-staged jamboree.

Now 20 teams from the continent will be split into five pools of four for home-and-away duels before each group winner goes through to the World Cup finals tournament itself.

The make-up of the groups will only be known at a FIFA draw early next year, although matches will take place between early October 2016 and mid-November 2017.

It is during that nail-biting time that we will get the most accurate evidence of whether Bafana really are good enough to warrant a place among the elite in Russia.

First some kudos, in fairness: they were handed what was rightly described as a “tricky little hurdle” in the shape of the Angolans for the fledgling stages of their qualification drive, and when the host nation went a goal up in the first leg in Benguela ominously quickly, the thought of embarrassing elimination even before group play would have flickered in many South African minds.

Instead Bafana produced one of their grittiest performances further north on the continent to come from behind and win 3-1 on Friday.

The result left them in the pretty unusual position of entering the return fixture, after only a four-day turnaround, suddenly (and understandably) almost runaway favourites to progress.

And for much of the Durban game it seemed as if the national side didn’t quite know how to go about the business: while certainly not going to any extremes to park the proverbial bus, they also weren’t quite confident enough to seek really adventurously to bash further nails in the intended Angolan coffin.

They laboured to achieve mastery against opponents who shook their selection bag violently for the second match, managing a misery three shots in total (one on target) to the visitors’ eight and surviving one or two scary, flaky moments in their own penalty area.

Still, at no point did Angola ever look like registering the required three goals without reply to elbow Bafana out, and there were other, quite extended periods when South Africa kept them at bay with very pleasing calmness and composure.

There was more than a bit of fortune about the “strike” that finally put the tie beyond all doubt in the 67th minute – a Manucho Diniz own-goal that trickled in at the near post off his legs as he tried to deal with a down-bound header – although it did serve as the cue for Bafana to play with a belated touch of ambition and chutzpah in the last quarter or so.

Job done? It couldn’t be disputed, and for that stark fact lots of long-suffering SA supporters will be notably thankful.

Fittingly, coach Mashaba didn’t go too overboard afterwards, confessing in the immediate post-game television snap interview that more taxing hazards lay ahead on the road to Russia.

Keep in mind that Bafana are highly unlikely to find themselves amidst any “easy” quartet of teams in their group, given that they are currently the 18th ranked African team.

So in that respect, there will be a mere two “weaker” sides than them among the 20 tackling the critical phase, and South Africa will almost certainly play only higher-ranked outfits.

Traditional continental heavyweights already through with Bafana at the time of writing included Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria and Algeria.

The last-named two, remember, kept the African flag flying with at least some gusto at Brazil 2014, where each reached the round of 16.

Algeria were probably the most compelling, attractive of the African sides at that World Cup, and were ousted 2-1 after extra time by eventual champions Germany.

For the record, after a shock 2-2 draw in the away leg, the Desert Foxes thrashed Tanzania 7-0 in Tuesday’s return.

That’s just another gentle reminder of the further qualifying hazards ahead for Bafana.

They’d better brace themselves for a big fish or two.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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