|Bruised Bafana: Dean Furman after his visit to hospital|
Many of us were still raving about Thabo Matlaba’s cracker for Bafana Bafana in Cape Town on Saturday night when a far more significant strike hit the back of the net in Addis Ababa on Sunday afternoon.
We have every reason to hail Orlando Pirates full-back Matlaba’s effortless effort as one of the best for South Africa – and no cause to doubt the value of Bernard Parker’s strike in a well-deserved 2-0 win over the war-torn Central African Republic in Cape Town.
But it was Getaneh Kebede’s highly-fortunate 88th minute goal for Ethiopia – which secured a vital 1-0 win over our neighbours Botswana – which may just prove the most significant moment when it comes to deciding who travels to Brazil next year.
Gordon Igesund was understandably upbeat after his side’s well-deserved triumph over CAR – he even talked in terms of a slightly premature scouting trip to Brazil to assess conditions, grinning: “We don’t want to get caught out. I know some people are laughing, but we have to look at where we can set up camp next year!”
World Cup debutant Igesund, who wasn’t in charge for the opening Group A draws against Ethiopia in Bafokeng and Botswana in Gaberone last year, said: “Just getting the win was so important for us – yes, we could have scored more goals but we were better than them in all departments.
“You can’t say we were careless, we created chances and we scored two of them. We do get a little excited in front of goal and we could have won 4-0. But you can’t ask for more than a win and I think we can go there and get points. The guys are starting to believe in themselves, but it’s not going to be easy – I’m told we’ll play on a small pitch.
“As long as we’re playing attacking football I’m happy. We’ve got to keep working on these things. We’ll get better and Tokelo Rantie will get better and he’ll get his confidence.”
Igesund surprised analysts by picking Bloemfontein Celtic’s Thabo Nthethe to partner Morgan Gould at the heart of his defence ahead of Russian-based Siyanda Xulu and Gould’s Kaizer Chiefs colleague Tower Mathoho.
He grinned: “Nthethe was outstanding. He doesn’t play for a “big” team but he’s an unassuming lad who won every ball and I’m very, very pleased with his performance.”
As for the clash-of-heads injury to Doncaster Rovers midfielder Dean Furman, Igesund said: “Deano has gone to hospital, he has a couple of stitches in his eye. He had to go to hospital because he had a bit of double vision.
“You’d think he had gone a couple of rounds with George Foreman by the way his face looks!”
Bafana media officer Matlhomola Morake later tweeted the picture above and told Deano’s growing fan club: “Furman is fine and back with the team, nothing broken. Cut above the eye and sore nose. Not serious.”
We should also question the vision of one Herve Lougoundji, the CAR coach. Raging about his side's disallowed goal – which clearly involved a “hand of God” – he said: “In Africa the issue is referees. The way he handled this match was NOT okay.
“How can the referee call a goal, and the linesman did not show any sign of a problem until the players started shouting? It is not acceptable at all.”
Igesund’s reply sums that debate up rather well: “It’s not even a debate – you can’t score a goal with your hand. It was definitely a handball.”
So at the halfway point in qualifying, both Ethiopia and South Africa are unbeaten – but Bafana trail by two points with tough away games against CAR and the leaders to come plus a home three-pointer against Botswana’s Zebras. Igesund’s scouts have already warned conditions on the road in CAR will be “a nightmare”.
The big question now is: What happens to Bafana’s June 7 clash in the Central African Republic? On Sunday, the civil war in the landlocked nation raged on with rebels forcing the President Francois Bozize to flee amid reports of SIX South Africa soldiers – assigned to provide “VIP protection” for the president - killed.
Assuming peace returns and football can be played, South Africa can travel to CAR with some confidence, having outplayed their higher-ranked rivals in Cape Town, while Igesund will desperately hope that Botswana, bottom of group A with a single point, get something from their clash with Ethiopia in Gaberone.
But if the trouble continues, a neutral venue may be needed – or CAR could find themselves unable to complete their fixtures. That would mean points earned against them are forfeited, meaning both South Africa and Ethiopia lose 2-0 wins.
But perhaps the final word today should go to Mr Matlaba. Hero of the hour. His take on a wondergoal? “Gordon tells us to believe in ourselves. I did. I always try to shoot from distance. I told myself wasn’t going to pass. So I took a shot – and hit the target.”
If only all things were that simple.
An abbreviated version of this story will appear in www.thenewage.co.za as my Neal and Pray column on Tuesday.