Bafana Bafana have once again given the country reason to ululate after they booked their spot in the last 20 in the race to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Now these 20 countries will be divided into five groups of four, meaning each will play six matches before the group winners go to the finals. We all know that the last time Bafana qualified for a World Cup was the 2002 showpiece in Korea/Japan and failure to make it to Russia will further condemn us to the laughing stock of the continent and for some of us, the shame of having to write or broadcast about a tournament we’re not a part of. It’s also very difficult to keep interest in a tournament your country is not in, so we again have to support the other five African countries that have qualified and pretend we’re okay with it.
It is for this reason that I’m a tad bit nervous and have retarded my celebrations somewhat, knowing full well that the group stages will not be an easy task to go through. So for my sake and that of the rest of sports media and fans, it would be mighty appreciated if Shakes Mashaba and the lads could get their ducks in a row because this current moment of mini-celebration is but the calm before the storm. The good thing is that the group stages will only start in about 10 months, and we have a bit of time to prepare.
There was no surprise in the teams that have qualified, and this means the big boys of African football. We don’t know who we’ll get in our group, but we know it’s going to be tough. The one other thing that counts against us is the seeding process, which is usually done based on the rankings. Our current 75th spot in the world really puts us in a compromising position and makes us susceptible to being thrown in the lions’ den.
The highest-ranked African teams will obviously be seeded and lead the groups, meaning they will avoid each other. This automatically makes them the favourites to win their groups. Remember, there is no place for runners-up on the African plane to the World Cup, so Bafana have to win their group if they are going to be in Russia.
The best thing for us to do, is do all we can to climb the ladder in the coming months. We are already out of the CHAN tournament at the beginning of next year. But that would not have helped us anyway.
This is a joke of a tournament that’s not even recognised by FIFA. But this is a story for another day. Our next real chance to make a mark will be the AFCON qualifiers in March, when we go away to Cameroon and immediately come home for the return leg the very next week. The next rounds of qualifiers will be in June when we take on the Gambia away, and finally Mauritania here at home. Of course by that time we might have an idea on whether we’ll be going to Gabon in 2017 or not.
But these matches, and a few official friendlies that will be organised will give Bafana an opportunity to be a bit more consistent in their performances than they have been. The see-saw that we have been witnessing has to stop. One moment we’re happy to qualify with flying colours, the next thing we’re booted out in the first round.
Then we’re humiliated by little-known Mauritania, only to get an A+ against Angola. For starters, we must start performing at home. Bafana seem to do well away from home, and then just freeze in front of their own crowd.
That will have to come to an end against Cameroon if we harbour even the slightest of hopes to get to AFCON. Our campaign is already hanging by a thread and we really need to win all our remaining matches. It should not be that every time Bafana are going to play people are saying: ‘Ja, I know they won last time, but hey, you never know with those guys.’ It is not their fault. The team is just that inconsistent and just never seems to be a sure bet.
Now for the national team (and some of us) to have a chance to go to Russia, we need them to win on a regular basis. This will help us with the rankings, and make sure the whole country is behind them come the tough World Cup group qualifiers. But like I always say, I am a South African and have no other team to support.
I will always support Bafana Bafana, even though I sometimes don’t agree with how things happen in the team. So congratulations to Bra Shakes and the guys on making it to the final round of qualification. The road is yet a long one.
Before I forget, let me take this opportunity to wish Orlando Pirates well when they take on Etoile du Sahel in the first leg of the CAF Confederation Cup final this weekend. It is important that we get behind them as they bid to once again put our country on the map. I will personally be at Orlando Stadium to add my voice and hope many of you will too. #BackTheBucs