Johannesburg - Bafana Bafana are on the cusp of history. That they are a draw away from qualifying for the play-off round of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, if they hold Ghana this evening, is something that hasn’t been heard of since they reached the finals in 2002.
It is worth mentioning that the last time they qualified for the global showpiece was 11 years ago. But even then, they had the free entry ticket as hosts. However, the successive finals in 1998 and 2002 will go down in the history books as their best run because they qualified on merit.
Fast track to 2021, Bafana have their destiny in their own hands. They could reach the play-off round if they draw against or beat Ghana in their backyard tonight. It will, however, be a huge ask for Hugo Broos’ men given what is at stake and the history.
The South Africans are at the summit of Group G with 13 points, three ahead of the second-placed Ghana. They achieved that feat after a draw with Zimbabwe, a win over Ghana at home, back-to-back wins over Ethiopia and a win over the Warriors at home.
They are now poised for tonight’s hurdle away at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium. Ghana have won all their home matches this campaign, while they also beat Bafana in the qualifiers of the 2020 Africa Cup of Nations late in 2019 at home.
A lot has happened since that match in Accra. Bafana eventually failed to qualify for the finals in Cameroon, while Ghana booked their spot after finishing top of the group. But that the two teams have new coaches could be two-edged.
Broos has infused a sense of belief within his squad, ensuring that they do no more than just rebuilding for the future. The youthful squad, from which you get a sense of belief that they want to fight for their country, has surpassed expectations.
They are playing as a unit, with the senior players also holding the hands of the youngsters. Percy Tau, the vice-captain, understood why he had to be omitted from the squad for the clash against Ethiopia, given that he was injured and new at Al Ahly then.
Tau has returned to the Bafana fold, gelling well alongside old mate Keagan Dolly who also returned to the national team after a hiatus. The Kaizer Chiefs midfielder has been at the peak of his form since returning from Montpellier SC in France.
His form for club and country has been outstanding such that he’s been involved in 10 goals in the last 12 outings. He scored a brace in the Soweto derby before assisting Teboho Mokoena for the solitary winner in their clash against Zimbabwe on Thursday.
But for Dolly, there’ll probably be no sweeter moment in his career than representing the country in Qatar next year.
Meanwhile, the change of coaching personnel for Ghana could come back to haunt them. Milovan Rajevac has made his second return to the Black Stars after leading them in 1999 and 2006. Many pundits believe that perhaps the sacking of Charles Akonnor was harsh.
Akonnor had led the Black Stars to the continental showpiece in Cameroon. The players were used to his philosophy and personality – and it might take a while before they warm up to Rajevac who began his second stint with a win over Zimbabwe.