The African Cup of Nations qualifiers reach the final two group matches, to be played this weekend and next week, as CAF’s top teams vie for a spot at AFCON 2015, which will kick-off in January. In Group A, South Africa lead the pool and they will be seeking a win against Sudan on Saturday that will seal their spot at next year’s showpiece. Bafana Bafana top Group A with eight points from four games and are closely tailed by Congo, who are on seven. Nigeria are still in with a chance as they lie three points below Congo while Sudan’s chances look bleak as they have just three points after losing all but one of their four games. This match, originally scheduled for Mbombela Stadium, is now being played in the hometown of Bafana’s fallen hero Senzo Meyiwa at Moses Mabhida to honour the national team’s former captain.
To Win (90mins)
South Africa 1/4
Shakes Mashaba was faced with the extremely difficult task of calling up a goalkeeper to fill the void left by his former number one Meyiwa. Mashaba opted to select two new faces with Siyabonga Mpontshane of Platinum Stars and Brilliant Khuzwayo of Kaizer Chiefs called up to challenge Belgium based Darren Keet for the right to take the gloves against Sudan on November 15. In defence, Luvolwethu Mpeta (Platinum Stars) and Ntsikelelo Nyauza (Orlando Pirates) are two new faces in the squad while May Mahlangu (IFK Goteborg) and Lehlohonolo Majoro (Orlando Pirates) earned recalls to the national team for the first time under Mashaba. South Africa’s run in the Group A qualifiers thus far has been impressive. With two wins and two draws Bafana are yet to concede, with Meyiwa responsible for that impeccable defensive record. Bafana kicked-off the qualifiers with a 3-0 win away to Sudan and are firm favourites to win similarly at home.
Their other win also came on the road against Congo with their two draws astonishingly coming at home. It seems as though Mashaba has brought back some of the pride associated with playing for the national team. He has got the best out of the nation’s most promising players like Andile Jali, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Eric Mathoho. It will be interesting to see whether 17-year-old Rivaldo Coetzee keeps his spot alongside Mathoho in central defence as Anele Ngcongca makes a return to the squad after missing Bafana’s last two matches. Both central defensive pairings have been excellent but it is in central midfield where Bafana have impressed the most. Jali and Dean Furman have been a wall in front of the defence, breaking down play and dominating the midfield with some tireless shifts. Mashaba should once again start with two strikers with Tokelo Rantie and Bongani Ndulula his favourites thus far. Pirates duo Majoro and Kermit Erasmus will be looking for some time to impress off the bench.
Bottom of the group Sudan need to win both their remaining matches and hope other results go their way if they are to stand any chance of qualifying for AFCON 2015. Sudan have been poor but did surprise Nigeria with a 1-0 home win over the African champions. All in all they have scored a mere two goals while conceding eight. They started the qualifiers with a 3-0 loss at home to Bafana before losing 2-0 in Congo. They then beat Nigeria but slumped to a 3-1 loss away to the same side. Sudan have a poor away record in Africa and will need a big improvement to get even a point here.
VERDICT: South Africa 1/4
It will be an emotional match for South Africa but the death of their captain could spur them on to give a passionate performance and follow through on what they started with Meyiwa. After drawing both home matches Bafana should come through with a win at home against the minnows.