Where the World Cup qualifier between Bafana and Zimbabwe will be won and lost
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Cape Town – South Africa's Bafana Bafana and Zimbabwe's Warriors, two teams with very different agendas, will square off in the Southern African derby at the FNB Stadium on Thursday evening (9pm start).
The match is a 2022 FIFA World Cup Group G qualifier and while unbeaten South Africa are in with a sniff of reaching the final qualifying round, Zimbabwe have surrendered their bid after a string of three defeats in four outings.
Bafana Bafana will carry the hopes of a nation bidding for a rare World Cup qualification and they have inspired confidence after four matches. The Warriors' agenda, as outlined by their interim coach Norman Mapeza, will be to use the two remaining matches (Zimbabwe will host Ethiopia on Sunday) to prepare the team for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in January.
Bafana Bafana will be desperate to win the match, and the Warriors' players may be at cross-purposes, some will try to nail down their places in the national squad while other play for national pride and so doing claim bragging rights for the region.
Bragging rights may be a factor since apart from Mapeza, several Zimbabweans have strong ties with South Africa, none more so than striker Khama Billiat who is one of the players spearheading Kaizer Chiefs' revival. He is one of the most gifted strikers on the Mother Continent and he will command attention from the Bafana Bafana defence.
Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Bross is all too aware of what Zimbabwe is all about and from the outset, his charges will try to suffocate the opponents with possession football. Zimbabwe will be fielding a depleted side after their Leicester City star Tawanda Maswanhise and Wigan Athletic defender Tendayi Darikwa withdrew from the squad.
With the influential Keagan Dolly a likely starter in the starting XI Bafana Bafana will happily dominate the ball. He creates space and has the vision to bring his front-runners into play. He also has a penchant for scoring goals as was his wont in the recent Soweto Derby where he bagged a brace.
Mapeza, given his limited player resources (apart from their international stars key players like Teenage Hadebe, Marshall Munetsi and Knowledge Musona are all sidelined) may decide to stake a claim for midfield supremacy. If his players offer sufficient resistance the midfield battle may result in a tactical tug of war and Zimbabwe will stay in the contest.
When the two teams clashed in the opening round of qualifiers, Zimbabwe opted to bring their fullbacks into play down the flanks and this ploy proved effective in their goalless draw in September. Keeping these fullbacks busy will neutralise that threat.
Broos may look to take advantage of Zimbabwe's untried combination by playing on their fragility in defence with high-press tactics. That will cut back on incursions by Zimbabwe's midfield. All that Bafana Bafana needs to do is ensure its link-up from the midfield suppliers are in place to exploit possession.
For Zimbabwe, the absence of their internationals may prove to be too big a missing piece in the quest to halt the unbeaten South Africans at their Calabash fortress - the venue where they downed Group G favourites Ghana.