Ever keen to defeat Bafana, the Botswana side are unlikely to score the four unanswered goals they seek.
Last month, when Robert Mugabe was inaugurated as Zimbabwe’s head of state, Botswana’s President Ian Khama cut a lone, dissenting figure among the Southern African leaders who lined up to congratulate the octogenarian for winning the election.
Khama thought that the election result was a fraud and said so. However, there was a sense of relief in certain quarters that the Botswana president eventually decided to attend Mugabe’s victory party. It was as though Khama had accepted that, no matter how righteous his indignation, ultimately it was not his fight.
The South African football fraternity will be hoping that the Botswana side taking to the field against Bafana Bafana in Durban on Saturday September 7 will, like their president, realise that some battles are not theirs to fight.
But Botswana has a habit of trying to show up big brother South Africa. Bafana may have lost only once (on penalties) against the Zebras in their previous seven encounters but they have left the ground each time knowing that they were involved in a bruising derby.
Bafana’s six-match unbeaten run against Botswana is divided equally between wins and draws.
In fairness to Botswana, they have something to fight for – albeit at best a mathematical chance of going through to the second round of the qualifiers. However, that is dependent on the improbable happening.
They will have to score at least four unanswered goals against Bafana and hope that the Central African Republic registers a big win against frontrunners Ethiopia.
Ironically, it is Botswana that opened the door for South Africa to dream of Brazil again after Bafana looked dead and buried after losing to Ethiopia in Addis Ababa in June.
Botswana successfully protested that the Ethiopians had fielded Minyahil Teshome Beyene in their 2-1 defeat of Botswana despite his serving a suspension for being booked twice in earlier matches. The Confederation of African Football annulled the result and gave Botswana a 3-0 victory as punishment for Ethiopia’s transgression.
The “win” gave Botswana hope that they would upset the form book and manage a place ahead of the more-favoured Ethiopia and South Africa.
But the odds are stacked against Dipitse (the Zebras) – as the Batswana call their team. A win for them would be a Pyrrhic victory, although it would precipitate the end of Gordon Igesund’s tenure as Bafana head coach.
As previous encounters have shown, the Botswana team are a zealous lot when they play Bafana. The only time Bafana have won by more than a one-goal margin against Botswana was two decades ago when the Kaizer Chiefs duo of Rudolph “Gardner” Seale and John “Shoes” Moshoeu scored a 2-0 victory in Gaborone. It was also the first encounter between the two sides.
The Zebras’ best result against South Africa was a 6-5 win on penalties in the Cosafa Cup finals in Gaborone in 2006 after the sides ended the match in a goalless draw in regulation time. Botswana could only manage a draw against South Africa when the two teams met in Gaborone in June last year.
Asking the Zebras to score the goals they need to rewrite the script is, perhaps, asking too much of them.
That said, a gutsy performance, even an impressive win by Bafana, will probably have no bearing on the line-up for Brazil 2014. Bafana are no longer masters of their own fate since that afternoon in June when Ethiopia scraped together a 2-1 win in Addis Ababa, thanks to a Bernard Parker own goal.
Parker, who earlier had put South Africa ahead, returns in the match against the Zebras to partner Tokelo Rantie, whose exploits for his Swedish club have been such that he enjoys higher regard overseas than at home.
Rantie has not set the local scene alight and the Moses Mabhida stadium could be the forum to showcase why Bournemouth, the second-tier English side, made him their record signing, parting with what between R30-million and R40-million just before the shopping window closed last week.
As things stand, the race to the line for Brazil is for Ethiopia to lose.
No matter how hard Botswana or South Africa exert themselves, Ethiopia could end everybody’s hopes by winning their match against the Central African Republic to be played at the same time as the South Africa-Botswana fixture.
Even with Ethiopia having been docked points for their oversight against Botswana, they maintained the lead in their group and ensured that, come this weekend, they would be captains of their own fate.
Compounding matters for South African hopes is that, because of the Central African Republic’s unsettled political climate, the country’s team continues to be deprived of home-ground advantage because the match will be played in Brazzaville – 2 880km or a two-day journey from their normal habitat, the capital city of Bangui.
On the upside, it means that the plan for the Russia 2018 World Cup could start on Wednesday September 11 when South Africa take on Zimbabwe in a friendly.