After surviving the chop following his failure to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Gabon, Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba knows the importance of a positive start in the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifiers.
Mashaba, who got a lifeline after failing the first of his two mandates, says a good start is crucial in the opening match against Burkina Faso early next month.
His second mandate is to restore the glory days – by qualifying for Russia – but he is under no illusion that it will be easy.
He knows only a good start will help to restore pride in the team.
In fact, Mashaba is targeting six points in the opening two games against Burkina Faso and Senegal in November.
The team took a knock following their dismal performance in the Afcon qualifiers, in which they won only one game against Gambia and drew four.
But Mashaba is confident of a good outing in Ouagadougou.
“It is imperative we have a flying start against Burkina Faso. We all saw what happened with the 2017 Afcon qualifiers; the first match is always the most important one as it sets the tone for the rest of the qualifiers.
“Anything other than a win in Burkina Faso will have us playing catch up, and it is never an easy task for any country,” said Mashaba.
“We must also ensure we win our home games as anything less will not be enough to get us to Russia. We know we are carrying the hopes of the entire nation as we embark on these qualifiers, which go hand in hand with pressure, but then again, that it is part of the territory. But we are feeling very positive about the mission ahead.
“We have tweaked the team a bit to give it some freshness and we are confident we will do well.”
But he still bemoaned the lack of a notable goal scorer.
“The lesson we learnt from our ill-fated Afcon qualifiers is that we don’t have a prolific striker in front of goals.
“We dominated all our games, but could not finish off our chances. It is something we need to work on,” said Mashaba.
For this, he has called up Bidvest Wits striker Eleazar Rodgers to help solve the scoring problems.
Mashaba said he expected a physical game against the Les Etalons.
He has also recalled Thulani Serero and May Mahlangu to the team. Others who will make a comeback after missing the Mauritania and Egypt games are Eric Mathoho, Rivaldo Coetzee, Oupa Manyisa, Brighton Mhlongo and Ayanda Patosi.
Bafana will miss the industrious Andile Jali, who has been ruled out of action for three months. Also missing out is Mandla Masango, who has issues with his Danish side Randers FC.
Bafana assemble next Sunday and will have just one training session before departing on Tuesday.