SA are underdogs, but football is odd ...
Cape Town - Bafana Bafana play Senegal in a 2018 Soccer World Cup Qualifier at the Peter Mokaba Stadium on Friday night.
South Africa need this win more than Senegal do, so how will this battle play out?
“Wow! We are on camp and we are going to play two very‚ very important games and you are highlighting for me that there are people who have already written us off‚" those are the words of Bafana coach Stuart Baxter, who strangely thinks the sane people of South Africa are irrational for believing his team might not make it to next year's World Cup.
Hmm, I wonder why people would think this way.
Could it be because Senegal are ranked third in Africa whilst South Africa are 16th, or maybe Senegal have players who are among Africa's most talented, or it might be because his Bafana Bafana team lost twice in a row to the worst side in their World Cup qualifying group (sorry my Cape Verdean people, but it’s true).
South Africa are the underdogs, but football is an odd game, where results are probable, but, like the weather in Cape Town, are also unpredictable. Who will the football gods favour on Friday?
I was shocked when SAFA announced they were bringing Stuart Baxter back as coach of Bafana Bafana because he had failed in his first spell. It was sort of like deciding to start a new relationship with your ex who neglected, cheated, and constantly left the toilet seat up the first go round.
But, in his first match back in charge, he led South Africa to an impressive win against Nigeria in an AFCON qualifier. Go, Baxter go.
Well, the honeymoon period of the new relationship didn't last long because Bafana lost two crucial World Cup qualifying games, back-to-back, against a country better known for its holiday beach resorts than for its football (sorry my Cape Verdean people but, again, this is true).
A win against Burkina Faso last month has restored some hope, but Bafana Bafana have to beat Senegal, twice, home and away in the space of five days to qualify.
Baxter may be without goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune after a facial injury sustained over the weekend, Hlompho Kekana who had to be excused from the squad after a family tragedy, Bongani Zungu due to a red card against Burkina Faso and Thulani Serero who told the selectors to shove their call-up where the sun don't shine.
2016 was a good year for Senegal. The team won six out of seven competitive and friendly games. Impressive. The only blot on their record book being their loss against Bafana Bafana in Polokwane. Thankfully for Senegal, it was announced that the match was to be replayed because the referee was found to be shady. And yes, it seems CAF might have an agenda against South Africa.
Sadio Mane - Senegal's best-attacking player - is fit and will be ready to torment the South African defenders on Friday.
Senegal form in last 10 games
WDDLWWDWDW (50% win percentage)
Senegal away in last 10 away game
WDLDDWWWWW (60% win percentage)
South Africa form in last 10 games
WLLLDWWWWL (50% win percentage)
South Africa form in last 10 home games
WLWDWWLLDW (50% win percentage)
So who wins? Betting odds.
Senegal are favourites, but by a small margin. BET.co.za currently has South Africa at 1.80, Senegal at 1.55, and the draw at 1.90.
Senegal have not won many games lately, but they have not been conceding goals either and South Africa aren't prolific goalscorers. This is likely going to be a low scoring game.
Senegal have much more to lose than South Africa, who are high on confidence after bashing Burkina Faso, so going all-out attack mode wouldn't be in their best interests.
Bafana Bafana have to chase the result and that could lead to spaces in behind to be exploited by Senegal's pace on the counter-attack. Altitude could also play a role, Polokwane is 315m above sea level, but Senegal will be mindful of the fact that a draw will knock South Africa out of the race and that's why this ultimately will be a DRAW.
Kick-off on Friday is at 19:00.