|PETE'S SAKE: With Peter van Onselen on ANN7 today|
If Shakes Mashaba's unbeaten Bafana Bafana can produce a result - either a draw or a win - the Super Eagles are in serious trouble. They go in to the game knowing they have to better Congo's result against Sudan or they run the risk of failing to qualify for AFCON 2015.
This morning on ANN7, the South African 24-hour news channel on DSTV 405, I pointed out how pleased we would have been, barely four months ago, to reach this final showdown with South Africa already secure at the top of Group A. It's not just a marvel, it's a near-miracle.
Mashaba, as I have said before, has had to withstand injury to his captain Itumeleng Khune before he even got started, the Ebola outbreak, troubled times with overseas-based stars Kamahelo Mokotjo and May Mahlangu AND THE MURDER OF HIS UNBEATEN CAPTAIN SENZO MEYIWA have all struck since.
No coach should have to face such things. But Shakes has. And he goes in to tonight's showdown with a record of FIVE games, THREE wins and TWO draws. But still the blows keep coming. This afternoon we were told big AmaZulu striker Bongani Ndulula is OUT with flu and that Orlando Pirates front-runner Kermit Erasmus will replace him in the starting line-up.
I told Peter van Onselen this morning on ANN7's Vuka: "Mashaba is tactically good, his selections are often controversial, but his major strength is motivation, he's like Sir Alex Ferguson" and I cited as evidence the way Shakes unleashed a verbal outburst which got Bournemouth's Tokelo Rantie fired up to score against Sudan last Saturday.
Shakes, seven years younger than the now-retired Scotsman, will need all his fiery team-talks and cuss-packed pitch-side rants to get Bafana going tonight. Nigeria HAVE TO WIN. They have over 200 players in Europe, we have barely 20. The Super Eagles traditionally get one over on South Africa, most recently at the CHAN tournament, where a 3-1 triumph left Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula frothing at the mouth.
In ten attempts, South Africa have beaten Nigeria just once - in 2004 - losing SEVEN TIMES.
There has never been a better time to overcome that hoodoo. The home leg of this qualifying tournament saw a 0-0 draw in Cape Town. Then, coach Steve Keshi was on the way out, Africa's top goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was mysteriously unavailable and FIFA were threatening to ban the Nigerian Football Federation for governmental interference.
Tonight Enyeama plays, the NFF are back on track, and the new stadium will be humming with the anti-South African feeling Mashaba has talked about in the past. EVERYONE wants to beat us, the length of Africa.
But captain Dean "Furmidable" Furman knows all that. He says:"We are out to remain unbeaten. We know Nigeria will be tough, but this is not just about football, it's about the fans, the nation."
A win tonight would be a dream. A draw is the most optimistic prediction I'm prepared to offer. A defeat is likely when one side is desperate to qualify, the other is already through. Of course, Nigeria could yet qualify as the best third-placed finisher for Equatorial Guinea in January.
The bottom line is, South Africa would do well to stop Nigeria qualifying. Then Algeria would be the main threat. Their French-based revival will be hard to stop. But with Africa's big guns all on the brink tonight, South Africa could be ready to assume their rightful position near the pinnacle of the continent's footballing ranking.
And a point tonight will be just the first step on the way. What ever happens, Shakes Mashaba, the cheap but sensible option after Gordon Igesund, YOU KNOW BEST.
My ANN7 interview is HERE;
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