Soccer: Afcon Qualifiers

Andile Jali

South Africa v Sierra Leone – Saturday 8th October – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit (17:00)

The final round of the AFCON Qualifiers will kick-off this weekend with a place at next year’s AFCON in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea at stake for many teams. South Africa’s destiny doesn’t lie in their own hands but rather in Egypt’s. Egypt will host Niger and South Africa will be hoping the weakened Egyptian team made up of U-23 players can upset the visitors and either pull off a win or a draw. South Africa will take on Sierra Leone in a match they will be going all out to win and hope Niger drop points.

There have been several crucial afternoons already for Bafana Bafana in the team’s relatively short history. The sensational day in 1997 when a win over Congo ensured a first ever Soccer World Cup trip for South Africa, the torment of the game against Ghana at Soccer City in 2005 when Bafana needed only draw but lost out to Michael Essien and friends, to miss out on the finals in Germany and then there was defeat by Nigeria in Port Elizabeth, despite near total dominance of the game, which meant early elimination in the 2010 African Nations Cup campaign. South Africa sit 2nd on the table after playing 5 matches, winning 2, drawing 2 and losing their last fixture away to Niger. Coach Pitso Mosimane’s plan was to win all 3 home matches and earn 3 draws away from home but unfortunately the hostile conditions in Niger was too much for the Bafana team, especially without their instrumental captain Steven Pienaar. Pienaar has started training with Tottenham Hotspur after been out for 3 months with a groin injury but after speaking to management at Tottenham, Mosimane has decided it is best not to risk losing his captain by forcing him back after just resuming training.

Sierra Leone lie 3rd on the table on goal difference behind Bafana after beating Egypt 2-1 at home. Which means they also have a good chance of qualifying if they manage a win at Mbombela this Saturday if Niger lose in Cairo. Sierra Leone have made a significant jump up the FIFA rankings and now lie 68th in the world and 16th in Africa. The burst of young talent in the squad starts with Mohamed Bangura, called ‘Poborsky’ back home. The bustling 22-year-old forward moved to Europe at the start of last year and recently signed for Scotland’s Celtic after being recommended by Swedish great Henrik Larsson, who saw him playing in Sweden last season for AIK Stockholm. The other great hope for the emerging side is midfielder Rodney Strasser, who is on the books at AC Milan, but is currently on loan at Lecce, where he should get regular playing time.

Bafana have been excellent in their two home matches so far in qualifying. They dominated Niger with a 2-0 win then went on to beat a strong Egyptian team 1-0 and with so much at stake in this match they should be fired up in front of their home support. The home win is tipped confidently.

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