Bafana waste home advantage

Bafana Bafana's fans react disappointed as attempts to ensure qualification for the African Nations Cup were washed away. (AFP)

Bafana Bafana's fans react disappointed as attempts to ensure qualification for the African Nations Cup were washed away. (AFP)

For all the pulse racing created by success in Pointe Noire at the weekend, Bafana Bafana’s profligacy at home leaves their African Nations Cup finals hopes in a precarious position.

Failure to beat Congo-Brazzaville in Polokwane in Wednesday night’s return match means Bafana must win their last home match against the Sudan next month or face the stark reality of being pipped at the post in their bid to qualify for January’s tournament in Morocco.

All the courageous, soldier-like endeavours away from home face the possibility of being nullified by an inability to score at home.

South Africa might be top of Group A with just two matches to go, but they have Congo and Nigeria breathing down their necks and must win their next match if they are to keep control of their destiny.

The goalless draw at a wet Peter Mokaba Stadium left South Africa just one point ahead of Congo and four better than Nigeria, who won on Wednesday in another rain-soaked encounter in Abuja.

Scenarios
There are now many scenarios for the national side after they spurned a chance to make sure of their place in the finals by not repeating their Pointe Noire success with another win in Polokwane.

Instead, there is still the possibility of heart-breaking failure as the following suggest:

• In the next round on November 15, if Bafana draw with Sudan and Nigeria continue their revival with a victory in Congo, then the standings will see South Africa on nine points and Nigeria and Congo just behind on seven with one match left.

• Then, if Nigeria continue their long-standing home dominance over South Africa on the last match day on November 19, they will leapfrog Bafana by advancing to 10 points while Bafana will stay on nine. And it will be all over for South Africa if, at the same time, Congo emerge triumphant in the Sudan to also finish on 10, leaving Shakes Mashaba’s side stranded one behind.

Of course, there is no guarantee Nigeria will win in Pointe Noire or Congo in Khartoum, but these scenarios illustrate the punishment for teams who fail to use home advantage to maximum effect.

Another home draw for South Africa is simply not good enough and will undo all the good that two away successes in Group A have engendered for the national side in the short space of the past five weeks.

How ironic it will be if the team finishes the qualifiers with two victories out of three on the road and still does not make it to Morocco.

Naturally, this doomsday permutation is easily negated by beating Sudan in the next match and, given Bafana won 3-0 against them in their opening match, Mashaba’s team start as overwhelming favourites.

Nothing like conquering foreign climes
They have injected a zest back in the local game, often bedraggled and moribund because of a lack of success in the international arena. As Orlando Pirates proved last year on their heady run in the African Champions League, there is nothing like conquering foreign climes to energise local supporters.

The zest fell a little flat in Polokwane as the toll of two games in five days, plus all the travel and pressure, affected the performance.

Mashaba’s Bafana Babes have played best under adversity with a tight passing game and minimal time on the ball.
But once they get too confident they tend to overelaborate and forget how effective their one-touch game can be.

It happened after they imposed control in the first half against Nigeria in Cape Town last month. They then got too clever after the break, taking too much time on the ball, losing it too often and allowing the Super Eagles back into the game.

In Polokwane, the tightness of their game was also missing, with application and concentration not at the same levels as they were in Pointe Noire.

Last Saturday’s win proved the mental fortitude this young team are capable of. It seems they play much better as underdogs than favourites. But for the next match against Sudan they must go back to believe they are facing adversity to ensure there is no slip up at home.

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