One match from glory

South Africa are almost home and dry in their bid to qualify for the World Cup again

Ntuthuko Maphumulo

If Bafana Bafana manage to overcome Zimbabwe on Saturday, expect Soccer City to erupt as victory would almost guarantee South Africa a place in next year’s World Cup finals in Japan and Korea.

Beating our northern neighbours would put coach Carlos Queiroz’s men on a par with the squad of 1998 when Philemon Masinga’s beautiful goal against Congo at the same venue qualified South Africa for the World Cup in France and then-coach Clive Barker did his aeroplane impressions around the ground. Four players from the team that made Bafana the first country from Southern Africa to qualify for the World Cup are still in Queiroz’s reckoning Masinga, John “Shoes” Moshoeu, Helman Mkhalele and Andre Arendse.
The match against Zimbabwe could also decide on the bulk of players that would go to Japan and Korea next year. Defender Mark Fish of Charlton Athletic in England has not been included in this week’s clash but talks between his club and Queiroz could see him feature in the remaining qualifying matches of the World Cup and African Nations Cup. Fish last played for Bafana Bafana at Ellis Park in December against world and European champions France. The last time Bafana Bafana played at FNB stadium was against Liberia, when just 6 000 people watched the home side win 2-0.

Bafana will have to pull up their socks if they hope to beat Zimbabwe after they went down 1-0 to Italy in a friendly last week, although a “B” side under assistant coach Trott Moloto managed to beat Mozambique 3-0 in Maputo in the Cosafa Cup at the weekend. Queiroz will have to mix and match from his 22-man squad, with several of his regular choices out or doubtful starters due to injury. Delron Buckley, Bradley Carnell and Dumisa Ngobe have been ruled out with David Kannemeyer called up as cover on the left side while Sibusiso Zuma is battling to be fit in time. Hans Vonk is the likely goalkeeper after pulling off some great saves against Italy.

The removal of Guinea from the World Cup qualifiers because its president axed the Guinea football association has come as a blessing in disguise. World governing body Fifa declared games against Guinea null and void and all points gained or lost during those matches were scrapped. Guinea might have posed the biggest threat from Bafana’s group, but Zimbabwe now take on that role. South Africa top African qualifying group E, with a full house of nine points from three games, while Zimbabwe are second with six. Victory for Zimbabwe would leave the sides level on points but a home win would open an almost insurmountable gap.

South Africa’s final two games are against Burkina Faso (away) and Malawi (home).

Zimbabwe and South Africa have played each other eight times with South Africa winning four times and Zimbabwe three. But Bafana Bafana will not forget when Zimbabwe beat them 4-1 after their re-entry to the soccer fraternity in 1992.

Their first-leg World Cup qualifier, played in Zimbabwe, was tarnished by a riot that left 13 dead. South Africa had just taken a 2-0 lead when fans started throwing objects at the players. The police fired tear gas into the crowd and the game had to be abandoned, although the scoreline and result stood. Some South African players vowed never to play in Africa again, but this weekend’s game will see those players begging to be included in the squad.

Bafana Bafana team manager Zola Dunywa said: “The match against Zimbabwe is important but should not be seen as the final match for us to qualify for the World Cup.” The team still needs four points to be absolutely sure of quali-fying for next year’s showpiece. Zimbabwe, the current Cosafa Cup champions, will be relying on their foreign-based players such as the Mugeyi brothers, Wilfred and William, who play for Bush Bucks; Harlington Shereni, a left wingback based in Switzerland; Norman Mapeza, based in Austria; and Peter Ndlovu, who plays in England for Sheffield United, to help them upset South Africa.

Zimbabwe have a number of players playing for Premier Soccer League teams in South Africa and their knowledge of some of the Bafana Bafana players could work to their advantage.

Zimbabwe are hungry to win after they beat Malawi 2-0 and Burkina Faso 2-1 to get their six points in the group. Moloto said training was going ahead in difficult conditions (Johannesburg had heavy rains this week), and the technical team was leaving nothing to chance to book South Africa’s tickets for the World Cup.

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