Bafana needs to restore some pride
Bafana Bafana hopes to make fans proud after being given a second chance at qualifying.
JOHANNESBURG - Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund and his bosses at the South African Football Association (Safa) are playing it cool after the national team was thrown a 2014 World Cup lifeline by FIFA on Monday.
Igesund and Safa's top brass know Bafana may yet stumble at the first hurdle and fail to qualify for the second round of qualifying.
No fireworks were lit or champagne bottles were popped at Safa House when the email from FIFA arrived on President Kirsten Nematandani's computer that Ethiopia had been punished for fielding an ineligible player in the qualifiers.
Two weeks ago the hungry and determined Walia Antelopes looked like they had secured a place in the 10-team playoffs, which will decide Africa's five participants at the World Cup in Brazil, when they beat a confident South African team 2-1 in Addis Ababa on 16 June.
Ethiopia has never qualified for a World Cup tournament.
FIFA started disciplinary proceedings against Ethiopia, over Minyahil Teshome Beyene's eligibility in the qualification game against Botswana on 8 June, on the same day the Black Lions walloped Bafana.
Beyene was supposed to be serving a one-match suspension, but ran onto the field both against Botswana and Bafana, respectively.
Ethiopia were guilty as sin and subsequently forfeited their 2-1 away win over Botswana, fined 6,000 Swiss francs, docked three points and The Zebras were handed a 3-0 victory, blowing Group A wide open with both Bafana and Botswana now back in contention.
The sanction means Ethiopia is now only two points ahead of Bafana again, and three ahead of Botswana, heading into the final round of Group A matches next month.
Bafana will play their final match at home to Botswana on 6 September, while Ethiopia will be away to the Central African Republic (CAR) on the same day, with both games likely to kick off at the same time.
Botswana, with seven points, have an outside chance of qualifying for the playoffs should they beat South Africa and Ethiopia loses to the CAR.
Igesund has been cautious not to start practicing his Samba dance moves after hearing about Ethiopia's sanction.
"The decision of Ethiopia losing the three points was something everybody expected. It's a great opportunity for us to still qualify for the World Cup. Since I have been in charge of the national team, it has been a must-win situation in each and every game due to the circumstances of the situation for when I joined. But we have to go against Botswana and beat them. We have no control of whatever happens in the next game."
Igesund feels that luck could be on their side again.
"If Ethiopia draw or lose to CAR then that means we have got a great opportunity to go into that group of ten teams in that last hurdle to qualify for the World Cup. So when there is a bit of hope then it's always something you can hang onto."
Until this week Bafana looked like they were continuing to live up to their reputation in recent years of failing to qualify for big international events unless they are the hosts. That possibility is still very much on the cards, though. To win the respect of many fans who have already given up they should at least win convincingly against Botswana.