JOHANNESBURG – A qualifying campaign for a major tournament is not complete for Bafana Bafana without “what ifs” and calculators.
What if that match against Senegal wasn’t replayed? What if we didn’t lose to Cape Verde back-to-back? What if we played for a win rather than a draw against Sierra Leone in Mbombela? The list is endless.
But this time around there are no calculators needed and the “what ifs” are few.
Bafana have their fate in their hands despite playing to a goalless draw with Libya in Durban and Seychelles in Victoria. The what-ifs from those matches are just whispers at the moment because Bafana only need a point against Libya on Sunday in Tunisia to qualify for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.
The team’s biggest disadvantage is history. Bafana have messed up simpler equations in the past and those failures are at the back of this current generation’s minds.
“We deal with the pressure by forgetting about the past and stay in the here and now. That’s important,” Bafana midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo said from Tunisia.
“We played them before. We know how they want to set up. We have a week to prepare here, so that’s more than enough time to get the desired result in order for us to go through to the Afcon.”
A lot has changed since Bafana drew with Libya in Durban. The Mediterranean Knights have had two coaches since then. Omar Al-Maryami was promoted from assistant to head coach after Adel Amrouche’s resignation. Al-Maryami lost both matches against Nigeria and was shown the door to be replaced by Fawzi Al-Issawi.
The Libyan legend is an unknown entity to coach Stuart Baxter's men.
But Bafana also have their own surprises.
Lebo Mothiba and Percy Tau will be Baxter’s trump cards. The pair’s combination has matured into a forceful unit. Tau had just moved to Belgium at the time of the first leg, while Mothiba wasn’t in the set-up then. Their speed and understanding could earn Bafana a ticket to Egypt.
“I know that Libya are preparing well for us because this game is going to decide which team is going to go to the Afcon,” Mothiba said.
“This will be my first time playing against Libya. We must keep focus and keep working hard at training, listen to the coach’s instructions and do our best.”
Bafana will have their first training session in Sfax today after making the almost 300km bus drive from Tunis yesterday. They will get a feel of the match venue today and tomorrow before their date with destiny on Sunday.
The Libyans will be driven by two desires - impress a legend they grew up with stories of, and give their countrymen a reason to celebrate and briefly forget their turbulent and violent past and present.
Bafana, on the other hand, are driven by the desire to make up for their disappointing past, failure to qualify for last year’s World Cup and the 2017 Afcon.
“The players are ready,” Mokotjo said. “They are preparing well. We are here to get the result. That’s the most important thing. If we win, we all win. We understand that.”