Bafana Bafana will have curiously completed a relatively lengthy period of more than four months in cold storage without a game of any kind before taking on Libya in the do-or-die Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier in March – a match in which South Africa must avoid defeat in order to qualify for the continent’s premier tournament.
“It is a situation not for want of trying we had hoped to avoid,” commented candid Bafana coach Stuart Baxter this week.
“But with FIFA decreeing only a limited number of official dates for international matches, a fair number of our projected squad now playing overseas and a busy PSL programme to boot, it seems the obstacles were just too steep to overcome.”
And yet the viewpoint persists among soccer officials that with greater foresight and a more dynamic approach, the South African Football Association (SAFA) might have come up with some kind of plan to lessen the Bafana fixture drought in view of the extreme importance of the Libya clash for South African soccer generally.
In spite of the entrenched logistics involved, SAFA’s apparent cash-strapped situation may also have been an instrumental factor in not organising a warm-up game of sorts for Bafana – either at home or outside the country’s borders if necessary.
Baxter says, however, that on a brighter note the PSL have indicated a willingness to postpone a number of their games immediately before the Libya match – “and this,” added the Bafana coach, “will give us a number of much-needed extra days to get the players into camp and make the travel arrangements involved less arduous.”
But even with the earlier release of Bafana players attached to PSL clubs, there is unlikely to be any such concessions regarding players with clubs outside the country.
Baxter, however, expressed confidence in Bafana’s ability to avoid defeat against Libya despite all the disturbing preparation obstacles.
“I know what level our players are capable of reaching,” says Baxter, “and while not minimising the ability of our opponents, for whom I have a good deal of respect, I believe it is well within Bafana’s means to avoid defeat in a game from which losing must not be considered a possible outcome.”
As for the extent of the undoubted tricky task confronting Bafana, a pointer is the fact that the home qualifying game against Libya ended in a draw.
And while Libya will be deprived of playing Bafana at home next month because of political upheavals in the country, a likely venue suggested in Tunisia should be more to the liking of the North Africans than playing in South Africa.