CAPE TOWN - Bafana Bafana have an onerous task in their bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but Cape Town City captain Robyn Johannes has no doubt the squad has the quality and nous to get the demanding job done.
Needing nothing less than back-to-back victories over Senegal to qualify for Russia, Bafana take on the Lions of Teranga at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on Friday (7pm kickoff). The return match is scheduled for next Tuesday in Dakar.
Johannes was in the Bafana squad for the previous qualifier against Burkina Faso last month, due to the suspension of Eric Mathoho and an injury to skipper Thulani Hlatshwayo. It was a well-deserved call-up to the Bafana squad for the consistent City defender. He has been in great form for City and his presence in the South African national team was just reward for his form and hard work.
But he never featured in the match against the Burkinabe, won 3-1 by Bafana, with SuperSport United duo Morgan Gould and Clayton Daniels lining up in central defence.
Now, for the vital games against Senegal, both Mathoho and Hlatshwayo are available again, and Johannes has dropped out of the squad. It’s an indication of the strength in this position nationally, especially considering that, in addition to the in-form City captain, there’s also Buhle Mkhwanazi, Motjeka Madisha, Daniel Cardoso, Lorenzo Gordinho and Rivaldo Coetzee still to return from injury, and a few others waiting in the wings.
Johannes, now 30, was chuffed with the national call-up last time, but is fully aware of the queue for positions at centre-back. He understands, though that selection is not in his control, so he’ll just continue to deliver good, consistent performances.
“It’s every player’s dream to play for his country,” said Johannes. “I’m no different But my focus will always be on doing well for my club, City, and whatever follows is a bonus.”
But, having been in the previous Bafana squad, Johannes is well-placed to give some insight into the squad preparing to tackle Senegal. It’s a tough ask to beat Senegal twice - home and away in the space of four days - but the City man has no doubt that they can pull it off. He says the key to success will be for Bafana to balance their attacking strengths with discipline in defence.
“These are probably the two most important games for Bafana because two wins see SA at next year’s World Cup,” said Johannes.
“This Bafana team is filled with quality players. You just need to look at the bench and you’ll see how strong the squad is. The fact that we need nothing less than two victories means that we have to play good, free flowing attacking football, but also, at the same time, be cautious and disciplined at the back, much like we did in the game against Burkina Faso.”
When he made the squad last month, it was also the first time that Johannes was able to work with Stuart Baxter. The Brit, now in his second spell as Bafana coach, has had successful stints at Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport. The challenge ahead, against Senegal, is a steep one, but Johannes, having seen Baxter at work with the players, has no doubt of the coach’s standing among the players.
“Baxter is a top coach,” said the City captain. “He has the respect of the all players. He has been around SA for so long, and he knows and understands the different cultures at work. I have no doubt that, with him at the helm, Bafana will be a successful team again.”