World Cup qualifying hope for Bafana

18 June 2013

A 2-1 loss in Ethiopia in Sunday left Bafana Bafana five points behind the Walia Antelopes in qualifying for the 2014 Fifa World Cup with one match to play, but their hopes of reaching Brazil might not be over.

Football’s world governing body, Fifa, is investigating whether or not Ethiopia used an ineligible player in its 2-1 win over Botswana in Botswana. The standard punishment is a 3-0 victory to the opposition.

Should that punishment be meted out to the Ethiopians, they would be on 10 points, with a goal difference of plus-one. South Africa would remain on eight points and a goal difference of plus-four. Botswana would improve to seven points and a goal difference of minus-one, while the Central African Republic would remain on three points and a goal difference of minus-six.

Last round of group qualifying

That would turn the final round of games in September – South Africa at home to Botswana and Ethiopia away to the Central African Republic – into possible group deciders. What it wouldn’t do is put Bafana Bafana’s fate in the team’s hands. That would remain in Ethiopia’s hands.

Sunday’s match in Addis Ababa was decided by a freak own goal, turning Bafana goal scorer Bernard Parker from hero to villian.

Parker had put South Africa in front in the 33rd minute after getting onto the end of a clearance by goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and sending a half-volley beyond the reach of Ethiopian goalie Jemal Tassew. His effort silenced the crowd, which had been loud throughout the contest.

Just 10 minutes later, though, Ethiopia equalised through Getaneh Kabede after some sloppy defending from South Africa.

Own goal

Then, in the 70th minute, the home team was awarded a free kick on the right, deep in South African territory. The ball was delivered into the the centre and was met by Parker who, with a powerful header, found the corner of Khune’s goal from some distance. It would have been a spectacular goal had it been at the other end of the field, but it was, instead, a shocking own goal.

Bafana pushed hard for an equaliser, but came up short as Ethiopia claimed a 2-1 victory.

At the time, the news about the investigation into Ethiopia’s win in Botswana was unknown, so South Africa’s coach Gordon Igesund believed Bafana’s Fifa World Cup challenge was over when he commented: “The dream is over for us as far as 2014 Brazil is concerned. Now we have to regroup and see what lies ahead of us.”

Igesund took charge of the team in 2012 after Bafana, under Pitso Mosimane, began their qualifying campaign with an away draw with Botswana and a home draw against Ethiopia. He said: “My mandate was to qualify the team for the World Cup and I didn’t do that, so I will have to wait and see what will happen as it is no longer in my hands. It was a difficult assignment from the beginning, having lost some crucial points in the early stages of the qualifiers, but I agreed to the challenge because I believed we could make it, sadly it was not to be.”

Support for Igesund

Dennis Mumble, the CEO of the South African Football Association, has, however, already spoken out in Igesund’s defence, agreeing that the coach was handed a difficult hand when he took the team.

Igesund admitted he was disappointed to lose in Addis Ababa. “You can see from the attitude and commitment of the players that we really wanted to win this match. We threw everything at them. We managed to score, but our own errors cost us the game. It is one of those things that happen in football.

“We worked so hard in the last year to get to where we are,” he continued. “We have made huge strides. It is just unfortunate that we found ourselves in a position where we had to win this game.

‘A fantastic performance

“I am pleased with the effort of every single player. They gave their all. We did everything that we could possibly do. I told the players to walk with their heads high because it was a fantastic performance away from home.”

Captain Itumeleng Khune echoed Igesund’s sentiments when he said: “We are very disappointed with the result, but I believe we gave a very good account of ourselves. We are proud of the display we put out in this match. We did everything we could, but unfortunately things didn’t go our way.”

Should Ethiopia be punished by Fifa, something will have gone South Africa’s way, however, and the 2014 World Cup dream will be alive.

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