Mon 12 Nov by Mark Gleeson
Bafana Bafana must win on Saturday against Nigeria to ensure they are not forced into a do-or-die away game against Libya next March in order to qualify for the 2019 African Nations Cup finals.It is an incredible situation that the national team find themselves in, having started the group with a historic away win over the Super Eagles but since bungled their way through the preliminaries to put in peril their chances of qualifying.The match at Soccer City is one of the most important in years for Bafana, who missed out on the last Nations Cup and the last two World Cups, and who have dropped to a lowly 73rd in world football.
Another failure for South Africa would plunge the game into further doldrums with the South African Football Association already in a final crisis, sponsors fleeing and a television deal with the state broadcaster the subject of dispute.Bafana’s failure to beat Libya at home in September and the minnows Seychelles away last month means they are on dangerous ground.In Group E, they sit in second spot, unbeaten, with eight points from four games. Nigeria lead with nine points and need only one more to confirm their place at the finals.If South Africa lose on Saturday, and Libya win at the same time, then Bafana will be just one point ahead of Libya in the standings, having to go away to play the north Africans their last group game needing to avoid defeat.That will be no easy task in tough conditions, making it important to do the business this week and make sure their last group game in March is only of academic interest only.It seems incredulous that a country that defeated the mighty Nigeria away in a qualifying campaign might yet still not reach the finals. But that will be what stares South Africa starkly in the face if they do not come up with the goods at Soccer City.There are factors in their favour: Nigeria have several key players out through injury and the high altitude in Johannesburg will make it tough for the visitors.But it will be a mental battle at the end of the day and the home side must not be cowered by the reputation of Nigeria, who were unlucky not to get past the first round of this year’s World Cup in Russia.