JOHANNESBURG - The new look, youthful, Bafana Bafana is a few hours away from kicking off the all important FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers with a tricky away trip against neighbours Zimbabwe.
Over two decades on from doing the double over their neighbours from north of the Limpopo River, en route to sealing qualification for the FIFA World Cup Japan/Korea 2002, Bafana head back to Harare’s National Sports Stadium seeking similar joy to that experienced 20 years ago.
They once again square off with The Warriors, this time as they seek to qualify for a first World Cup tournament since the spectacle in the Far East 19 years ago, in what should be an entertaining clash in the Zimbabwean capital.
Whereas a star studded Bafana, boasting European based luminaries such as Delron Buckley and Shaun Bartlett amongst many, swept past The Warriors 2-0 at the National Sports Stadium in July 2000 and wrapped up the return fixture 2-1 in Johannesburg in May of the following year, the two teams now meet under totally different circumstances.
Instead of developing into a football superpower as expected in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the South Africans have regressed so terribly that their only other appearance in world football’s grandest state came as World Cup hosts in 2010.
Failure to book their ticket to Germany 2006, Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018 has now rendered World Cup qualification the much sought after Holy Grail of South African football. Hopes of sealing a spot for the festival of football in the Middle East in November and December 2022 are not exactly high, humility having long set in due to recent failures.
This afternoon’s opening World Cup qualifier against Zdravko Logarušić’s men is a potential banana skin for new Bafana boss Hugo Broos and his troops. The Warriors have within their ranks a lot of good players enjoying regular game time abroad and their experience could pose a problem for the new look Bafana team.
Under the Croatian, Zimbabwe have assembled a strong looking squad boasting the experience of the well travelled and hard running sharpshooter Knowledge Musona and the defensive solidity provided by English League One side Wigan Athletic’s Tendayi Darikwa and Jordan Zemura who turns out for English Championship AFC Bournemouth.
They also have the experience of Major League Soccer based centre-back Teenage Hadebe of the Houston Dynamo to call up on, with the lanky former Kaizer Chiefs defender having also enjoyed a good spell with Turkish Super Lig outfit Yeni Malatyaspor since leaving the Amakhosi in 2019.
Bafana’s Belgian tactician, Broos, will also need to select a strong midfield if the South Africans are to contend with the central defensive midfield steel of English Premier League club Aston Villa’s Marvelous Nakamba and Marshall Munetsi who is enjoying a regular run for French Ligue 1 outfit Stade Reims.
Broos’ problems will not only be limited to finding means to win the midfield battle, but he must also find a way to deal with hard running and physical strikers like French giants Olympique Lyon’s Tino Kadewere and English Championship club Luton Town’s Admiral Muskwe.
The attacking creativity and flair of familiar faces in Kaizer Chiefs’ Khama Billiat and Supersport United’s Kudakwashe Mahachi will be another headache Broos will have to find solutions while in 25 year-old striker Macauley Bonne, who has already netted 3 goals in 5 appearances for English League One Ipswich Town this season, The Warriors will have another formidable source of goals.