Back-to-back clashes with Ethiopia are going to be crucial in determining whether Bafana Bafana qualify for the Fifa World Cup. The South Africans, though, tend to make it very difficult for themselves, writes MATSHELANE MAMABOLO.
JOHANNESBURG – Top of the table after two matches, Bafana Bafana are looking good in their quest for a ticket to next year’s Fifa World Cup in Qatar, right?
After all, our senior national team got the better of the group favourites Ghana the last time around.
While they won that match 1-0 courtesy of a Bongokuhle Hlongwane strike, the score should actually have been 2-0 after the referee inexplicably disallowed what appeared a legitimate Percy Tau goal.
What chance then, do the other teams in Group G have of stopping the “mighty” Bafana from progressing to the knockout stage? None, many would probably venture.
And with good reason too, for when the draw was made it was generally agreed that the contest for group honours would be between our national team and the Black Stars of Ghana – with Ethiopia and Zimbabwe consigned to the role of also-rans.
Beating Ghana secured us top spot and suddenly made us favourites to win the group.
Football though is fickle at the top. Granted, after the victory over Ghana that goalless draw against Zimbabwe in the opening match suddenly looked like it was but a slight aberration – a stutter that was only natural given the fact that coach Hugo Broos was getting to know his players, the Belgian making his debut then.
But nothing can be taken for granted. And the discerning Bafana fan will know only too well just how tricky the next matches are going to be.
Back-to-back clashes with Ethiopia are going to be crucial in determining whether we win the group or not and those well-versed with Bafana’s World Cup qualifying history are likely to be anticipating the matches with some trepidation.
The east Africans may not be highly-regarded in continental football, but they have a brilliant record against Bafana that should see them rubbing their hands with glee as they look forward to Saturday’s tie in Addis Ababa and the return leg next Tuesday.
Lest you’ve forgotten, it was the Walia Antelopes who ensured that we did not participate at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Having held the Pitso Mosimane-coached Bafana 1-1 at the Royal Bafokeng in the first round match, they went on to put home ground advantage to good effect in the return leg and won 2-1 over a South Africa led by Gordon Igesund.
That match is remembered mainly for the fact that Bernard Parker scored a brace – one of the goals being a headed own goal.
But the fact that the Kaizer Chiefs striker scored in his own net should not be allowed to take away from the fact that the Ethiopians were full value for the victory which saw them win the group with a match to spare.
For a country that was previously nowhere near the top echelons of continental football at the turn of the century, Ethiopia have made great strides and have proven particularly dangerous at home where they enjoy passionate backing from their followers.
Having begun this current campaign with a loss in Ghana, they put themselves back into the mix with a home win over Zimbabwe and they are sure to be cock-a-hoop as they welcome Bafana on Saturday.
Broos has not changed his squad much from the one that beat Ghana, the absence through injury of Percy Tau being the main worrying fact for Bafana as they look to remain top of the table at the halfway point of the qualifiers.
Saturday’s match is arguably the biggest test of this team’s character, pass that and they could well be on their way to the next stage of the qualifiers. For a victory out in Addis will surely see them go into Tuesday’s return leg confident of making it two out of two.
It will take some doing though, especially against an Ethiopian outfit that has history on their side.
It is Bafana who are top of the table though and they need to take to the field in Addis out to prove that victory over Ghana was no fluke.
MEANWHILE, BACK HOME, THERE’S TS GALAXY’S NEW COACH
A line in the press release announcing the appointment of Sead Ramovic as TS Galaxy’s new coach following the firing of Owen Da Gama caught my eye. “The 42-year-old master tactician,” it said.
I expected the release to detail the new coach’s accolades in support of his lofty billing as a “master tactician” but what followed instead was his résumé as a player.
Sure, he played in the Bundesliga as a goalkeeper and also had some stints in Scandinavia and that alone is sure to see him command some respect from the players.
But there was no information forthcoming from the release about his exploits as a coach and even my research yielded nothing to dissuade me from thinking we’ve got ourselves yet another one of those many Europeans who come to our shores for the sunshine while robbing our local coaches of job opportunities.
Of course I’d like to be proven wrong, especially because Tim Sukazi is sure he’s got the right man – the Galaxy boss having made it clear before the announcement of the coach that he wanted someone in possession of a UEFA Pro Licence.
I must say though that from the press release, the impression I got was that Ramovic was only now working on getting the licence.
“He’s on a UEFA Pro Licence programme which is the highest coaching qualification in the world,” Sukazi was quoted as saying.
Whatever it is, and whichever clubs he has previously coached Ramovic is the man Sukazi believes will send The Rockets shooting away from the relegation zone into the top six galaxy of the DStv Premiership.
So remember the phrase: Ramovic the “master tactician”.
AND UP NORTH, PITSO COMPLETES A YEAR AT AL AHLY
This past weekend marked a year since Pitso Mosimane left Mamelodi Sundowns to join Al Ahly on a two-year contract.
It already feels like Jingles has been in charge of the Red Devils for aeons, so eventful has his tenure been.
Just in the last week, talk from Egypt has been that he is on his way out – the club’s legends apparently being unhappy with the fact that he has failed to deliver this year’s championship and had lost the Egyptian Super Cup – a failing that saw him slapped with a $20 000 fine.
The victory over ENPPI in the Egyptian Cup round of 16 the other day apparently saved his skin but the knives are said to be out.
Not that Jingles should be bothered by it all. He has delivered the CAF Champions League title on two occasions already, although many feel the first one was not really his as he found the club in the semi-final already.
He has also won the CAF Super Cup and got them to the semi-final at the Fifa Club World Cup.
He is in the final of another CAF Super Cup as well as having qualified Ahly for December’s Club World Cup.
Not too shabby for the first black man to coach Africa’s most successful club hey?
But they are a very demanding club, the Red Devils and Mosimane signed that contract knowing only too well that it is not really worth the paper it is written on.
He went to Egypt knowing that he could be shown the door at the slightest hint of failure.
And at Al Ahly, playing second fiddle to bitter rivals Zamalek – as has been the case in this year’s championship – is regarded as the ultimate failure.
No wonder the knives are out for Jingles.
He has lasted a year though and success in the CAF Super Cup and a good run (reaching the final) at the Club World Cup should be enough to silence those baying for his blood and have him completing his two-year contract.