Ensuring qualification for the next Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) has taken on added importance after SA were drawn with Ghana again in the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup.
It means SA must get past the Black Stars twice over the next years, or again suffer the ignominy of sitting out while other countries represent the continent.
Beating Ghana in the Afcon qualifiers is imperative to the morale and psyche of the side going into the World Cup as Bafana Bafana will face the same old faces all over again.
Already the Black Stars have a slight advantage on that score: they beat SA 2-0 in the first of the 2021 Nations Cup qualifiers in Cape Coast last November and have the lead after two rounds in Group C.
Fortunately‚ in the Nations Cup qualifiers‚ the top two qualify.
In the World Cup it will be just the group winner that qualifies, which makes it imperative to steal a march on Ghana‚ who have since appointed a new coach in rookie Charles Akonnor. He previously played in the Bundesliga and has coached at local clubs but not at international level.
His first team selection in March when Ghana play Sudan in back-to-back Nations Cup qualifiers will be revealing.
Ghana rely heavily on the Ayew brothers — Dede and Jordan — but need to hand the reins over to a new generation‚ led by the midfield colossus Thomas Partey‚ who scored against Bafana keeper Ronwen Williams in November.
Ghana have several talents emerging in Germany as they keep up a steady assembly line of starlets for their national team.
SA’s other two group opponents are Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.
Ethiopia caused the dismissal of SA coaches Pitso Mosimane and Gordon Igesund during the 2014 World Cup where Bafana bombed in their bid to get to Brazil.
Mosimane was sacked after Ethiopia drew with SA at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace and Igesund’s time was up after he could not get the win in Addis Ababa that SA required to keep alive qualification hopes.
Zimbabwe are perennial foes and have talented players at their disposal but are largely sabotaged by their own administration. On Tuesday that the country’s football association was suspended by Cosafa for non-payment of dues.
The boardroom squabbles — and it is really like schoolchildren arguing — invariably trickles down to the players and prove demotivating.
When SA play Zimbabwe in Harare it will be a poignant reminder of the tragedy in 2000 when 13 people died in a stampede at the National Sports Stadium. It was caused by the goading celebration of Delron Buckley and Benni McCarthy after Buckley had scored a second goal to emphasise Bafana’s dominance on the day.
Frustrated home fans‚ desperate to have one over their southern neighbours‚ responded by throwing missiles at the SA team. The Zimbabwe police fired teargas‚ causing a stampede at the stairwells and a crush that proved deadly.