The 2018 Fifa World Cup dream is not quite over yet for South Africa's national soccer team Bafana Bafana.
After the disastrous 2-1 defeat to Cape Verde at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Tuesday night, Bafana coach Stuart Baxter admitted that “in terms of the group, we have to now rely on other results – we don’t have it in our own hands”.
Well, the very first of those results have gone Bafana’s way.
Burkina Faso and Senegal played to a 2-2 draw in Ouagadougou, the second consecutive stalemate between the two countries, soon after the Bafana game, which leaves Group D wide open once more.
Burkina Faso and Cape Verde are level on six points after four matches, with the Burkinabe topping the log on goal difference of +2, with the islanders on -2.
Senegal are third on five points (+1 goal difference), with South Africa last on four (-1 goal difference).
So remarkably, despite losing twice within five days, Baxter’s men are still in with a shout of reaching Russia 2018.
For that to happen, they will have to beat Burkina Faso at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on October 7, as well as Senegal away on November 11, which would take them to 10 points on the log.
Cape Verde are at home against Senegal in October, and will travel away to Burkina Faso in November.
“What it means to me, is that I am totally gutted. What it means to me as a professional, as someone that loves this country as well as many of the South Africans do, what it means to be personally is that I am very, very, very disappointed,” Baxter told SuperSport in a TV interview afterwards.
“In terms of the group, we have to now rely on other results – we don’t have it in our own hands. We need to make sure that we do our job first, and I think that is what we should’ve done tonight. That’s what we will try to do in the next two games, pick up maximum points and just hope for a bit of help somewhere else.
“I know football is a funny game, and I know that things can turn up that we don’t expect. The door may open… But can I say I’m confident, after we’ve lost 2-1 at home? Of course I can’t, if I’m a realist.
“But we will make sure that we do everything that we can, make sure that we try very hard to win those last two games. But at this moment, immediately after the game, I’m not full of optimism – of course I’m not. But that’s in the face of defeat… Maybe that will change tomorrow.”
Baxter surprised with his starting XI, with attacking players such as Lebogang Manyama, Andile Jali, Kamohelo Mokotjo and Percy Tau missing out.
Manyama, Jali and Tau made a considerable difference when they came on in the second half, with Jali scoring a late goal in reply to Garry Rodrigues’ sensational second-half double strike for Cape Verde.
But the coach felt that he had made the right selection calls.
“I pick the team that I think is going to deliver on the day, and you make the substitutions that you think are well timed. But whether they’re the right substitutions or not, is a matter of opinion,” the British mentor said.
“We go a goal down after a few minutes (in the second half)… It changes the mindset and changes the whole game. The instructions I gave at halftime, then maybe are not relevant as we’ve got to chase the game.
“So you need to get on the more attacking options, which is why Lebo went on first, and we put Andile on and we put Percy on because we wanted to (get on) our attacking options.
“But at the same time, we were gambling big time, and we knew it as they were as close to getting a third goal as we were to getting an equaliser. But that is the gamble we had to take.
“The goal came too late for us. If it had come 10 or 15 minutes earlier, maybe we’d have a chance. It was a lot of effort and a lot of character, but your organisation disappears when you keep on throwing on only attacking players.”