The old biblical truism that you reap what you sow will effectively apply to Bafana Bafana following on their qualification for the African Nations Cup Finals by virtue of the gritty, commendable 2-1 victory against Libya on Sunday.
In a nutshell, what this means, is that because of South Africa’s modest FIFA world ranking of 74th, which translates into a 14th ranking on the African continent, Bafana are certain to find themselves in a tough opening round group of four when the draw for the continental showpiece in Egypt in June and July is conducted by CAF on April 12.
The 24 finalists will be divided into six groups of four initially, with the two top countries in each segment and the four best third-placed sides going forward to make up the last 16 teams for the event.
And, with a seeding format applying in the draw, South Africa will end up in the same group as two of the top 12-ranked sides in the tournament, namely Senegal (now at 24th in the world and number one in Africa); Tunisia (28th in the world and second in Africa); Morocco (34th in the world and third in Africa); Nigeria (46th in the world and fourth in Africa); Democratic Republic of the Congo (51st in the world and fifth in Africa); Ghana (52nd in the world and sixth in Africa); Cameroon (56th in the world and seventh in Africa); host nation Egypt (57th in the world and eighth in Africa); Mali (65th in the world and 10th in Africa); Ivory Coast (66th in the world and 11th in Africa); Guinea (68th in the world and 12th in Africa); and Algeria (69th in the world and 13th in Africa).
The fourth team in South Africa’s group will be a nation ranked lower than Bafana, but all in all, it’s going to be a tough undertaking from the outset no matter how the ultimate draw materialises.
But as coach Stuart Baxter philosophised before the vital Libya undertaking in Sfax, “the quality of the opposition is obviously an important factor, but we’ll be concentrating on what we are capable of achieving and we’ll remain confident no matter who we play.”
Meanwhile, Bafana returned to South Africa on Tuesday with a good deal of praise heaped on the team for overcoming the tricky Libya hurdle, from which they needed a draw to qualify for Egypt and demonstrated the resolution and tactical acumen to walk a difficult tightrope.
While Percy Tau, with a brace of two classy goals brought back memories of the individual brilliance that has been lacking in Bafana’s ranks for some time and was the main hero of the occasion, Bidvest Wits’ Darren Keet in goal – not everyone’s choice – defied his critics with an inspired performance and Dean Furman also silenced the misguided detractors, who claimed he was not tall enough with a sturdy, calculated holding role in midfield.
As for Baxter, a favourite target of the boo boys, he warrants a good deal of praise for his insightful preparation of the Bafana squad in difficult circumstances and the composed manner he handled operations from the touchline.