Cape Town - Bafana Bafana will have curiously completed a relatively lengthy
period of more than four months in cold storage without a game of any kind
before taking on Libya in the do-or-die Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier in March
- a match in which South Africa must avoid defeat in order to qualify for
the continent's premier tournament.
"It is a situation not for want of trying we had hoped
to avoid," commented candid Bafana coach Stuart Baxter this week.
"But with FIFA decreeing only a limited number of official dates for
international matches, a fair number of our projected squad now playing
overseas and a busy PSL programme to boot, it seems the obstacles were just too
steep to overcome."
And yet the viewpoint persists among soccer officials that
with greater foresight and a more dynamic approach, the South African Football
Association (SAFA) might have come up with some kind of plan to lessen the Bafana
fixture drought in view of the extreme importance of the Libya clash for South
African soccer generally.
In spite of the entrenched logistics involved, SAFA's
apparent cash-strapped situation may also have been an instrumental factor in
not organising a warm-up game of sorts for Bafana - either at home or outside
the country's borders if necessary.
Baxter says, however, that on a brighter note the PSL have
indicated a willingness to postpone a number of their games immediately before
the Libya match - "and this," added the Bafana coach, "will give
us a number of much-needed extra days to get the players into camp and
make the travel arrangements involved less arduous."
But even with the earlier release of Bafana players attached
to PSL clubs, there is unlikely to be any such concessions regarding players
with clubs outside the country.
Baxter, however, expressed confidence in Bafana's ability to
avoid defeat against Libya despite all the disturbing preparation
"I know what level our players are capable of
reaching," says Baxter, "and while not minimising the ability of our
opponents, for whom I have a good deal of respect, I believe it is well within
Bafana's means to avoid defeat in a game from which losing must not be
considered a possible outcome."
As for the extent of the undoubted tricky task confronting
Bafana, a pointer is the fact that the home qualifying game against Libya ended
in a draw.
And while Libya will be deprived of playing Bafana at home
next month because of political upheavals in the country, a likely venue
suggested in Tunisia should be more to the liking of the North Africans than
playing in South Africa.