Johannesburg – When asked about Bafana Bafana’s chances of beating Senegal in their penultimate 2018 World Cup qualifier, coach Stuart Baxter said: “Yes we can".
Bafana face yet another cup final when they take on group leaders Senegal at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on Friday night.
Bafana’s destiny is in their hands and they know what to do to get to Russia next year. It is a win or go home situation for the South African team.
Win the remaining two games, and off they go to the World Cup. Anything less than a victory on Friday will effectively rule them out of a spot in Russia next year.
On the other hand, a point could be enough for the Lions of Teranga.
Senegal lead Group D with eight points, with both Burkina Faso and Cape Verde on six points.
However, a victory for Bafana will take them to the final group games in Dakar next Tuesday.
Baxter was optimistic about getting positive results, particularly in front of a home crowd. He will, however, have to do without the services of Bongani Zungu after his appeal for his red card to be rescinded was rejected by Fifa. The Amiens midfielder will now serve a one-match suspension but will be back for the return leg in Dakar.
Baxter said Bafana would have to build on their convincing win over Burkina Faso last month.
Although he said he was well aware of the danger the west Africans posed with their experience, they would not show them any respect on the field.
“I don’t expect them to open up, but they will be cautious in their approach. They know we can hurt them, so they will try to play to dictate terms,” said Baxter when announcing his squad last week.
“Undoubtedly, they have the who’s who of European football in that team. They have some fine players. Experience in the past is that maybe, when you have so many good players, it is more difficult to turn them into a team. And because of that, I don’t think they will be 100% happy with the way their campaign has gone".
Baxter will be hoping for a repeat of Bafana’s gutsy performance against Burkina Faso.
Bafana were unstoppable when they dismantled the Stallions at the FNB Stadium and South Africans are hoping for an even better display against an equally good side.
However, Baxter will have a headache at the back with the return of captain Thulani Hlatshwayo, who missed the Burkina Faso game due to an injury.
Eric Mathoho is back in the squad after serving a two-match suspension.
The big question for Baxter is whether to dismantle the central pairing of Morgan Gould and Clayton Daniels, who not only played well against Burkina Faso, but do so every week for SuperSport United.
With Andile Jali also serving a one-match suspension, the returning Dean Furman is expected to slot back into the heart of the midfield.
But Senegal will not be pushovers – they have yet to lose a game after four rounds.
Coach Aliou Cissé has surprisingly included injured Sadio Mané in his squad, even though his club Liverpool said the winger would be out for up to six weeks. But he has since recovered to face Bafana.
But Bafana will have to keep an eye on young Keita Baldé Diao, the Monaco forward who has been outstanding for Senegal.