JOHANNESBURG – To take four points off our bogey side Nigeria in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and then fail to book a ticket to this continental showpiece would be an outright embarrassment.
That’s why coach Stuart Baxter would have to do the honourable thing. And by that I don’t mean give excuses why we failed to beat a bunch of fishermen and pastry chefs in lowly Seychelles or how we didn’t stick to the game plan when Bafana Bafana were held to a goalless draw by Libya in Durban two months ago.
South Africa should be one of the two teams emerging from Group E to participate at next year’s Afcon in Cameroon. This is after all a tournament that has been extended from 16 teams to 24, and to be beaten to a ticket by Libya would be a true shame.
What began as a promising campaign back in June last year when Bafana travelled to Uyo and beat the Super Eagles 2-0 in front of their home crowd will now end with them desperate to avoid defeat away to Libya in March.
Some people see the fact that Bafana need only a point to qualify as them really just having one hand on an Afcon ticket.
But I have a different perspective. The win against Nigeria was supposed to have made us group favourites, especially given our opponents, Seychelles and Libya. But to have failed to then beat the latter in Durban, and smash Seychelles 6-0 only to fail to score away in Victoria during the return leg means Bafana made heavy weather of their qualification route.
To be honest, it should have been wrapped up before the 1-1 draw with Nigeria at FNB Stadium this past Saturday.
Baxter got a free pass for not guiding Bafana to the World Cup in Russia earlier this year and the fault really should have been put on his doorstep following back-to-back defeats against Cape Verde. Then, the coach said his mandate was never to secure qualification, but insisted that if he doesn’t make it to the Afcon and sees no progress, he will walk away.
There is progress… that goes without saying.
Bafana’s display against Nigeria on Saturday is the evidence that will go a long way in helping Baxter argue that there has been some good work done.
But to not be among the 24 teams at the Afcon next year should not be papered over. Libya will definitely try to match South Africa with everything they have got.
The North Africans have the self-belief now and the added advantage that the game will be on their turf, so to speak. Libya have played their home games in Tunisia instead of their own country because on the ongoing civil war.@superjourno