Cross your fingers for the Soccer World Cup
Bafana Bafana’s progress to the World Cup next year is now an ambition rather than a certainty after they lost the lead of the group to Ghana.
Although both teams have 15 points, Ghana’s position at the top is not just down to alphabetical order or goal difference.
Who goes to Germany is determined by the head-to-head record between the sides in the group stage — and having lost twice to Ghana, Bafana Bafana can only win their remaining two matches and hope the Black Stars drop points.
The biggest challenge for the South Africans comes next weekend, when they take on Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou.
When the Bafana Bafana players assemble on Sunday to prepare for the game next Saturday, only a win will be on their minds in order to put pressure on Ghana, who play on the following day against Uganda.
But, if Bafana Bafana show the sort of complacency they displayed while being trounced 4-1 by Iceland in last week’s friendly, Ghana will not have to worry too much.
Bafana coach Stuart Baxter said he expected 100% commitment from his players for this game and not the half-hearted play against Iceland.
Baxter told the Mail & Guardian that the side are going to Burkina Faso to win as there is nothing to defend. He will be using attack-minded players for this game, but will try to ensure that the defence is not compromised.
“I need soldiers and artists to win this game and drawing is not an option,” said Baxter.
The coach said that an away game for Bafana Bafana in Africa was like “Russian roulette”. The losses to Ghana mean there are two bullets in the gun when the coach pulls the trigger.
Bafana Bafana have won only two away games in these World Cup qualifiers — against Cape Verde and Uganda — and lost to Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Baxter said: “I assume they [Ghana] are going to win their game. If we win ours on Saturday, it turns the screws on Ghana the following day to also have to win.”
He is in a positive frame of mind that, if Bafana Bafana win both of their games against Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo, they would qualify for the World Cup.
Baxter believes Ghana will slip up in one of their two remaining games against Uganda and Cape Verde.
Baxter will have a week to train his players for this game so he cannot rely on the excuse of unpreparedness he has had for other games.
After the game against Burkina Faso, Bafana Bafana play a friendly against next year’s hosts, Germany, in Bremen.
The final World Cup qualifier is on October 8 against the Democratic Republic of Congo at home.
These qualifying matches also serve to secure berths in next year’s African Cup of Nations. In that competition, however, South Africa’s position is not as dire as the three top teams in a group qualify.