Now that Egypt has been awarded the rights to host the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), Bafana Bafana must still qualify for the continental championships after South Africa lost the Afcon bid to the north African country.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced on Tuesday that Egypt will stage their fourth Afcon finals as the replacement of Cameroon, who were stripped of the rights due to delays in preparations.
The hosts qualify automatically and if South Africa got the hosting rights it would have deemed their remaining qualifying game against Libya in March a dead rubber.
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane had expressed mixed emotions prior to Tuesday’s announcement in Cairo, and he would certainly be among those who will be glad that Bafana will have to earn their place among the nations bidding to reach the June 15 to July 13 tournament.
Egypt had already qualified, alongside Tunisia in Group J, among the 14 nations that had booked their spots after the qualifying rounds in November.
South Africa – second in Group E on nine points behind the already qualified Nigeria – must win or draw their final group fixture against the Libyans away on March 22.
“Libya is a good game for us. It will change the mentality. I want us to earn it,” said Mosimane at the weekend.
“It is good for the country; good for the mind of the players to say ‘we managed, we qualified’.
“I want [Lebohang] Maboe, [Tiyani] Mabunda, [Hlompho] Kekana to do it the way we do it at Sundowns. We played the number one team in Libya [Al-Ahli Benghazi in the CAF Champions League last month]. It was tough away [but] we came here and wrapped it up,” said Mosimane.
The trio featured in Bafana’s 1-1 draw against Nigeria at FNB Stadium on November 17.
Sundowns beat the Libyan champions 4-0 on aggregate to reach the group stage of the premier continental club competition after their goalless draw at Benghazi’s neutral home ground in Cairo.
The Libyan national team is most likely to take their game against Bafana on March 22 there due to unrest in the Arab country.
Mosimane believes that Bafana have no business in not at least getting a point against Libya, who are third in Group E on seven points.
“When you go into the group stages, you go with pride and integrity to say ‘we defeated the best team in Libya’. And I believe Bafana can also defeat Libya,” said the 2013 CAF Coach of the Year.
A defeat will in all likelihood be the end of the road for coach Stuart Baxter.
Despite Bafana’s unbeaten run during the qualifiers, Baxter has drawn a lot of criticism owing to the team’s lack of identity in their playing style.
Bafana were held to a goalless draw by Libya in Durban in September and later shared the spoils with the Seychelles away, just a few days after hammering the islanders 6-0 at FNB Stadium.
Meanwhile, CAF’s move to award Egypt the hosting rights means Niger and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) still have something to play for in Group J in the final round on March 22.
The two were already eliminated but Egypt’s automatic qualification means Niger have a chance to advance with Tunisia.
Third-placed Niger (on four points) will host Egypt, while Eswatini (one point) will face Tunisia.
Should the two finish equally on four points, CAF’s head to head between the two will apply and Niger have the upper hand having already beaten the Swazis in one of their two group fixtures.