Picture: UNSPLASH/DAN GOLD
Picture: UNSPLASH/DAN GOLD

Sunday’s African Nations Cup showdown against Libya marks the third time Bafana Bafana have had the good fortune of playing a key away qualifier at a neutral venue. Bafana were successful on the two previous occasions.

The last Group E qualifier for SA in the 2019 African Nations Cup preliminaries is being played in Sfax‚ Tunisia‚ because of the tenuous security situation in Libya‚ who have not been allowed to play any internationals at home for more than a decade.

Hostile crowd

Libya need to win the match and ordinarily would look to use home advantage in Tripoli to maximum benefit‚ with an intimidating and hostile crowd to shake up the visitors. But Sunday’s match at the Stade Taieb El Mniri is likely to have a modest crowd with almost all the edge taken off from the stands.

It was also the case in April 1997, when Bafana happily skipped a trip to Kinshasa, and again in 2013 when the conflict in the Central African Republic sent SA to a neutral venue.

In the 1998 World Cup qualifiers‚ Bafana were tenuously placed with a win‚ draw and loss after their first three Group C qualifiers against Zaire‚ Zambia and Congo-Brazzaville. The game against the Congolese was the infamous battle of Pointe Noire, when guns were stuck in the ribs of SA officials and the players kicked to bits in a game that was lost 2-0.

Clive Barker’s team then faced having to go to an even more hostile environment — Kinshasa — to meet Zaire‚ who were also desperately looking for points. But in Zaire‚ Laurent Kabila’s rebel army had made significant advances in their bid to oust the Mobutu Sese Seko regime and were marching towards Kinshasa. An imminent battle for the capital forced Fifa to change the venue of the game.

It was moved to Lome in Togo where Barker famously dropped Neil Tovey as skipper and installed Lucas Radebe. SA won the game with Doctor Khumalo at his best‚ scoring first and then providing the cross for Phil Masinga to head home the winner in a 2-1 victory.

It was the last game for Zaire‚ after which Kabila overthrew Mobutu and changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bafana would go on to beat Zambia and Congo Brazzaville at Soccer City‚ winning their last three qualifiers to book their place at the World Cup in France.

In 2013‚ SA’s World Cup hopes were already in peril after draws against Ethiopia‚ after which Pitso Mosimane was fired‚ and then Botswana. New coach Gordon Igesund won the home qualifier against the Central African Republic in Cape Town but had to keep winning the rest. The reverse fixture against the Central African Republic in June 2013 was moved from Bangui‚ because of rebel fighting and the massacre of SANDF troops‚ who were in the country in a peacekeeping role in the country. The match was moved by Fifa to Yaounde in Cameroon.

There SA won 3-0 to keep alive their hoops‚ only to lose the next game in Addis Ababa to Ethiopia and be embarrassingly eliminated from the race for the 2014 finals in Brazil‚ having just hosted the previous World Cup.