Fans of Bafana Bafana should cast an eye across the other qualifying pools ahead of the Senegal matches, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
Alexis Sanchez. Arjen Robben. Gareth Bale.
What do these three have in common? All world stars that won’t be playing at Russia 2018 after Chile (double defending Copa America champions), Netherlands and Wales (ranked 13th in the world) all failed to qualify.
All world stars that won’t be playing at Russia 2018 after Chile (double defending Copa America champions), Netherlands and Wales (ranked 13th in the world) all failed to qualify.
Closer to home, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Riyad Mahrez will also not be boarding a flight to the global spectacular. There’s somewhat of a crisis in America after the US men’s national team failed too.
Gabon – with one of the world’s most sought-after strikers in Aubameyang in their side, scored just three goals in seven qualifying games, while Wales missed out after losing to Ireland at home – but that was after five draws in a row – albeit with Bale absent.
What do these snippets show? The obvious. That qualifying for the World Cup is hard, really really hard and no matter how good your team is – on the field or on paper – there are no guarantees.
These notes should be put in the pockets of all South African fans ahead of November’s showdown/s with Senegal. Yes, the replaying of the match and the correctness of that decision could and probably should be argued further, but let’s deal with facts.
We have 180 minutes of football to be played and must win both legs in order to qualify. It’s the steepest of tasks, even if Sadio Mane – a player capable of being categorised with the Bales, Sanchezs and Robbens of the world – is out injured.
I’ve been on the negative side before when it comes to the national team, and why not? It’s been heartbreak after heartbreak, with so many tournaments missed due to being unable to qualify, often freezing at the vital moment, and then there’s the usual squad issues with players snubbing calls, the coach failing to call up what many believe to be the best players, and untimely injuries.
Wrap Itumeleng Khune up in cotton wool for the next month – he’s of national importance. Stuart Baxter’s time in charge of the team could be over before it really began if he fails to get his side over the finishing line – which looks very, very far away.
Yes, we have our fate in our hands for a change, but there’s a reason why we are still last in the group. If we couldn’t beat Cape Verde, then why the hell should we beat Senegal not once, but twice? Also, the Lions of Teranga are the third best side in Africa according to Fifa.
South Africa simply don’t have a match winner in their lineup. There’s no Sanchez, no Bale to scare the living daylights out of the opposition, and then we have our poor record against Senegal. Just two wins and four draws in eight meetings, one more draw and the dream of returning to the World Cup is over. And the self-pity, firings and hirings and finger-pointing begins again.
The upside? Well, obviously Mane’s injury is a massive boost – whether or not he’ll play in Polokwane remains to be seen. Then there are Senegal’s own issues. They have not qualified for the World Cup since 2002, and that will bring with it some problems ahead of November’s do or die battles. They have a squad brought together from around the world – they aren’t exactly a band of brothers at this point.
Argentina scrapped through on the back of a masterful performance by one of the best players on the planet (if he’s even from earth). Algeria aren’t going and neither are Gabon. Chile, Netherlands, Wales? None of them will feature.
No team has a right to qualify. It takes plenty of hard work, a series of solid performances, a few moments of brilliance and a slice of like. Failing to qualify for a World Cup could happen to anyone just ask Gareth Bale.