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It’s promising, but let’s spare Bafana some pressure

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between South Africa and Ghana at FNB Stadium.
Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between South Africa and Ghana at FNB Stadium.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

It’s always tempting to jump to Bafana Bafana’s praises when they do well, given that all we’ve known from them of late has been disappointment and heartache.

But even by their known low standards, we should always guard against going overboard when they show a glimpse of modest success.

Following their encouraging start to the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign, with a draw and a win sending them top of Group G, South Africans naturally were filled with pride that, for once, their team confounded sceptics. However, others took the results against Zimbabwe and Ghana as an indicator that the team had suddenly become world-beaters.

Premature songs of praise and misguided hosannas were led by the sports ministry, which released an utterly bizarre statement titled: “Minister Nathi Mthethwa congratulates Bafana for their remarkable win against Ghana Black Stars”.

Except there was absolutely nothing remarkable about Monday’s victory over Ghana at FNB Stadium. Rather, it was more fraught and pensive, coming through a late Bongokuhle Hlongwane goal against a team deprived of several key members due to Covid restrictions.

Bafana made heavy duty of what should have been a straightforward win, squandering several chances before Hlongwane’s decisive intervention. How the minister’s office saw that 1-0 win as a “result that will go a long way in giving hope to a nation that has been starved of victories”, remains the biggest mystery.

Amid the hyperbole, we should remember what  Hugo Broos promised when he first took the job five months ago. The Bafana coach, no doubt having seen his predecessors overpromise and under-deliver, stated his mission was to take the team to the 2026 World Cup in North America. “Don’t kill me if we don’t make it to Qatar (2022),” he said, a realistic proposition given that he’s had to start an entirely new team, as witnessed with the lineup from this past week’s opening qualifiers.

To say Broos is on the right track would also be an exaggeration. That he played Nyiko Mobbie at left-back for the two games shows he has some way to go in finding his best team. He also overestimated Ghana, conceding he had budgeted for a point against them, whereas he expected victory in Harare. In the end, Ghana, not Zimbabwe, were deservedly beaten.

Broos has now set a target of six points from next month’s home and away ties against Ethiopia which, if achieved, would put Bafana in even a stronger position.

But as we all know, qualifying for the World Cup, when this continent is allotted just five spots, is an arduous task. A glance at the 10 groups on the continent shows only four teams – Senegal, Libya, Nigeria and Tunisia – were able to win their opening two fixtures.

Bafana are among the six who top their group with four points and, if they take the tally to 10 after the home clash with Ethiopia on October 10, then we can start paying attention. For now, we have to remain calm and hope their rebuilding phase also comes with pleasant results here and there.

Could SA win their group and go to the final phase of qualifying, where they’d face another group winner in a playoff? It’s possible, with no added pressure of unrealistically lofty expectations.

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