Bafana Bafana want to learn from their mistakes of 2017 and not get ahead of themselves, but they are also aware that a win against Libya in Saturday’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier can make or break their campaign.
Bafana, with a good chance of reaching the 2018 World Cup, choked with two 2-1 defeats against Cape Verde Islands in 2017, the second, and most crippling, at the same venue as the Libya game – the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
Having beaten Nigeria 2-0 away in the opening match of their Afcon qualifying campaign in 2017, Bafana will know that a victory against Libya on Saturday could see them have one foot in at Cameroon 2019, though having played just two matches.
Seychelles, who Libya beat 5-1 in their opener at “home” in Egypt, seem destined to be the whipping boys of Group E.
So, with the group winners and runners-up both qualifying, a victory away against Nigeria and another at home against Libya should leave the return matches against both teams academic.
“This is a massive game for us in many ways. The good result against Nigeria pales into insignificance if we don’t get a good result against Libya at home,” Bafana coach Stuart Baxter said this week.
“So it’s a very important game. It’s important that we continue to take points because if we can do that it may be done and dusted before the end of the group.
“We want to be able to give other people a run if we can wrap it up early.
“But this is also very much about here and now. This is 90 minutes, plus it’s in SA.
“We want to make sure that we take control of it.
“And if we can take control of this game we will go a long way to taking control of the group.”
For Baxter too, having been backpedalling and battling scepticism over his tenure since his second failure to qualify for a World Cup with Bafana – the first coming in his stint in 2004 and 2005 – Saturday is an opportunity to get on the front foot again. The coach has hinted that SuperSport United striker Bradley Grobler, a scorer in their 2-0 training match win against AmaZulu on Wednesday, might have a role to play.
Grobler has scored three goals, helping steer SuperSport to the MTN8 final at the start of this season.
“Looking at the way Libya defend, they’ve conceded a lot of goals on set plays. They’ve conceded a lot from crosses,” Baxter said.
“So we can start with Percy Tau wider, coming in off the flanks, or we can start with Percy up front and then have the big men in the back pocket, in case we need to change the game up.
“But it’s good news for us when Bradley is firing, because he’s a bit of a predator on crosses and balls into the box.
“That’s why Bradley is worth his place in the squad, and it will be something that we’re going to look to exploit.”
Libya have been under a new coach from May, Adel Amrouche, the 50-year-old former Kenya boss who replaced Omar Al-Maryami.
That might make their game plan more unpredictable, but Baxter has been preparing Bafana for a team coming out and parking the bus.
He has also promised a plan B if that is not the case.