Football coaches and players appear to be growing fond of saying, “it’s not how you start that counts, but how you finish” – especially when they want to take some heat off themselves from early setbacks.
But in the case of South Africa’s campaign to feature in their fourth World Cup in Brazil next year, it was those two draws they registered at the beginning of the qualifying competition last June, against Ethiopia at home and Botswana away, that virtually destroyed their hopes.
But thanks to Ethiopia forfeiting three points to Botswana recently, Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund wants his men to put everything into the mathematical lifeline they have got going into the final group match against Botswana in Durban on Saturday (3.30pm).
“Should we beat Botswana, which I am confident of us doing, that will make it three wins out of four games. That is usually enough in a competition, but unfortunately all we can do now is make sure we beat Botswana and then hope Central African Republic (CAR) help us against Ethiopia,” said Igesund.
Should that unlikely aid emerge in Brazzaville, Congo, at the same time on Saturday, whoever wins in Durban will advance to the last stage of qualifying in Africa, since Ethiopia are two points ahead of Bafana with a smaller goal difference, and three points ahead of Botswana with the same goal difference at present. Igesund named his squad last Tuesday and was delighted to hear that English Championship side Bournemouth had made Tokelo Rantie a club-record signing by taking him away from the less glamorous Swedish league.
“It is a great move for Rantie and it will come back to benefit South Africa, as well,” said the coach.
Igesund’s squad for Durban now features four men from English leagues in different parts of the pitch, two young midfielders from the Dutch Eredivisie, an experienced rightback from Belgium’s Jupiler League and a central defender from the Russian Premier Liga.
By contrast, Botswana mainly rely on football exports to South Africa for progress of a team picked from a population about 25 times smaller than South Africa’s. Coached by Stanley Tshosane, the Zebras have done well to jump 15 places in the latest Fifa rankings, and now have a position of 101 in the world and 26 in Africa, to South Africa’s 67 and 12 respectively.
Ethiopia sit just beneath Botswana in the table, while Central African Republic are 22nd on the continent and 88th on the globe.
“We always looked with some envy when South Africa used to announce their squad for international matches… Now we have around seven players based in South Africa and that has brought a new dimension to our group,” Tshosane told fifa.com this week.
He was referring to the likes of veteran strongman Mogogi Gabonamong at SuperSport, striker Joel Mogorosi at Celtic, attacking midfielder-cum-forward Mogakolodi Ngele at Platinum Stars, and midfielder Nato Ofentse at Wits.
Tshosane’s side are excited about still having a mathematical chance of going through to the last stage of qualifying in Africa.
Igesund, however, knows his men have the ability to score more than a goal against Botswana on home soil, but far less clear is war-torn CAR’s potential to upset Ethiopia on neutral ground.
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