Bafana Bafana will this week play their second World Cup 2018 CAF Group D qualifier against Senegal at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane. After their draw away in Burkina Faso last month, we are well within our rights to feel that nothing less than victory will do against the Lions of Teranga. The last time we played them was in last year’s Nelson Mandela Challenge, where we beat them 1-0 through a brilliant Mpho Makola strike at the Orlando Stadium. But that was a friendly game. This one is not.
Photo credit: AFP PHOTO / CARL DE SOUZA
The Senegalese will come into this match fully aware that a win here takes them to six points at the top, and puts daylight between them and their closest competitors. Remember, only one country per group will be able to go to Russia. The good news for Bafana is that the last time we played Senegal in a competitive match they still did not beat us. We played to a 1-1 draw at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, a game we actually should have won.
Another reading that Bafana will be looking at for confidence is that contrary to popular belief, they have played in 22 World Cup qualifiers at home before and only lost two of them. Those came against a star-studded Ghana in 2005 with Stuart Baxter’s side going down 2-0 to the Black Stars that boasted the likes of Asamoah Gyan‚ Sammy Kuffour‚ Michael Essien‚ Stephen Appiah‚ Sulley Muntari and John Paintsil. The second defeat was 1-0 against the Super Eagles of Nigeria in Port Elizabeth in 2008. Now that was in an era we would all rather forget – The Joel Santana era.
Why were we playing a World Cup qualifier if we are going to host, you ask? Well the reason is that that year they doubled up as qualifiers for the AFCON in Angola, which we did not make. The reason I am telling you this is to show that we actually do not have such a bad record at home in World Cup qualifiers, and Shakes Mashaba too will know full well that he could spend the next year atop the group standings if he wins on Saturday. It is no secret that Bafana (and most SA teams) have a serious demon that needs casting out when it comes to scoring goals, and Mashaba’s latest experiment in that department is Dutch-born marksman Lars Veldwjik. Now I am not not a fan of players born outside SA playing for Bafana, and I have good reason. Remember Pierre Issa? Okay some of you might be too young for him.
Let’s try Davide Somma. No? Well I will tell you the common denominator here. They were both flops. But back to Lars, he is actually not a bad goalscorer whenever he has been given a chance to play. He has played for FC Dordrecht where he made 31 appearances and netted 14 goals. He turned out for Excelsior, playing 38 times and finding the back of the net on 30 occasions. Then went to PEC Zwolle, where he scored 14 times in 33 matches. All of these in the Dutch Eredivisie before he made the recent switch to Kortrijk in Belgium, where he plays alongside Ayanda Patosi. So if you look at it, it is really not a bad average in front of goal. So we can only hope that he is the answer to our prayers for goals.
Photo credit: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix
As a football fan you sort of feel that Bafana owe you this one. They owe us as a nation to qualify for Russia for all those years of promise that never came to fruition. They owe us for supporting them after they did not make it to Germany 2006, after they went to AFCON 2006 and failed to score a single goal, not going to Angola 2010, being eliminated out of the World Cup at home at the first hurdle, the infamous Dance of Shame, not going to Brazil 2014, and not qualifying for AFCON 2017. That is a lot to take and we have stomached all of it. Every time, we hope this is the time.
Well we do not have a choice do we? We only have one country. But it is time Bafana players understand that playing for South Africa is not their right. It is a privilege. There are 55 million people in this country, and to be part of the 23 picked to represent all of us is something quite special and should be treated as such. So we appeal to those who will step on that pitch come Saturday that for once we would like to be on the rejoicing side. To all South Africans, let us go to Polokwane and play our part.