Bafana have destiny in their own hands
Friday's 2-1 loss in Cape Verde was a major set-back for South Africa in their bid to reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, but they are by no means out of the running and could well head the group by the end of the latest round of qualifiers.
Saturday's 0-0 draw between Senegal and Burkina Faso was a bitter blow too for the hosting Senegalese, especially after a red card to key defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
The results left the group on a knife-edge, but with South Africa having two home matches next up, they still have a chance to take a grip on the pool. Burkina Faso currently head the standings with five points, followed by Senegal and South Africa on four, and Cape Verde with three. The winner alone will make the trip to Russia next year.
The Cape Verde islanders should be no real threat to the rest, because all they really did was take advantage of how poor Bafana Bafana were on Friday, and despite the win were not overly impressive themselves.
South Africa are likely to grab a home win when the teams meet again in Durban on Tuesday, especially with their excellent home record in World Cup qualifiers down the years. Of the 23 they have played to date, Bafana have won 17 and drawn four, with just two defeats.
Coach Stuart Baxter will have rattled the cages of the players, and on a grass pitch in Durban, as opposed to the horrendous artificial surface in Praia, expect South Africa to exert control on the game and put away what remains a poor Cape Verde side.
With Burkina Faso and Senegal potentially cancelling each other out again in Ouagadougou at the same time, Bafana could well sit top of the pool come Wednesday and leave their fate in their own hands.
Their next match at home to the Burkinabe will be played on October 7 in Nelspruit, where victory, difficult as that may be, would keep them top going into the final round of matches and place the pressure on their opponents Senegal.
Assuming Senegal get a win in Cape Verde on that same weekend, their star-studded side would need to beat Bafana to overhaul them at the top of the pool when they meet in Dakar on the weekend of November 10/11.
Certainly, South Africa will not want to head to West Africa needing a win, but knowing a draw would be enough would arguably make them favourites given the poor form of Senegal in the qualifiers to date.
There are a lot of 'ifs and buts' in the above, and certainly Praia was a lost opportunity for Bafana. But all is certainly not lost and they have their destiny still in their own hands going into Tuesday, when they will need to lose the nerves they displayed in Praia according to coach Baxter.
"I thought we opened the game very well. I thought we controlled the first 20 minutes. We scored," Baxter told reporters.
"I think when we conceded the 1-1 goal it became a bit of a mental problem where the players froze‚ they didn't react.
"In the second half we did what we could do. We tried to play more‚ we tried to have more patience and composure. And even when we were down to 10 men‚ I was disappointed that we didn't get the result. But I'm looking for reasons not excuses."
What will be comforting for Bafana fans is that the team is much better than what they showed on Friday, there is plenty of proof of that in recent performances. That does not mean a win on Tuesday is a sure thing, but if they show composure and play at a level they are capable of, it is very likely.
What is clear is that anything but three points will realistically scupper their dreams of going to Russia, and the team will have to switch focus to the qualifiers for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.