Over the years, South Africa has been called a ‘footballing nation’ but while that might be argued by the fans and aspiring footballers as fact, Bafana have done little to live up to that tag on the field, with their last success nearly 30 years ago at the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations.
Their World Cup qualifying campaigns have also been awful during that period and it’s been 21 years since Bafana qualified for the showpiece event through the qualification process, having only played in the 2010 finals as hosts.
Enter the 2026 World Cup qualifiers, and Bafana are hoping to make up for lost ground. They want to be part of the nine nations that will represent Africa in Mexico, Canada and the US.
These qualifiers could also serve as the saving grace for Broos, after the Belgian said he’ll quit if he doesn’t qualify for the Afcon finals in January and the 2026 World Cup. Luckily, the former is already in the bag and Broos has to navigate his way to a top finish in Group C that also features Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Benin, Lesotho and Rwanda.
Those latter ambitions got off to a flyer as Bafana beat Benin 2-1 at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday afternoon. But on arriving in Butare in the wee hours of Monday morning, Broos and his men encountered the first hurdle.
“It was not an easy travel,” Broos told Safa media on Monday.
“I wonder why we have to play in Butare. We had a fight from Joburg to Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) and took a three hours bus trip to arrive here.
“I don’t see why we have to be here. Also, when I saw the games of Rwanda … I saw a very, very bad pitch. It’s sticky. Fifa must make good rules about travelling and stadiums.”
With South Africa boasting plush stadiums, Broos has been hard at work trying to ensure that his team finds some sort of playing style and winning identity. Unfortunately, that might have to go out the window at the Huye Stadium at 3pm, if they are to win the game and go top of the group, and capitalise on the opposition’s struggles.
Bafana are the only team with a win in Group C. Nigeria drew both their games.
“We need 11 warriors on the field, we don’t have to think about good football, nice football,” the 71-year-old Afcon-winning coach said.
“We have to think about fighting. We’ll see tomorrow which players we’ll select and are available. At the moment we have to wait for the last training.”
Vital training session
Bafana’s last training session on Monday didn’t only gauge their readiness, but player availability as well. Mothobi Mvala, Evidence Makgopa and Aubrey Modiba had picked up knocks against Benin.
A large chunk of these niggles could be a result of the busy club schedule, given that some have to play after every three days and still travel. Broos, though, is not giving up on getting a positive result.
After all, the team has been in fine form in the past 12 games, winning seven and drawing five.
“I’m confident this team (can qualify for the World Cup). My confidence has grown in the last year,” Broos said.
“In every camp, I believe more and more. Even though I changed (players) often in the past, but you see in the last camps it’s now the same players.
“It means I’ve found my team. I’m confident in the team, I’ve seen them playing in the last three or four games against good opponents, good games. There’s quality and potential.”
But while Broos has seen the quality of his players, not every discerning supporter has.
Before 12 000 fans turned out in Durban, Bafana endured poor support in Johannesburg. Broos, though, has had to constantly remind his troops that they are deserving of donning the national team jersey, hence he’s confident they’ll overcome all adversities.
“At times, they don’t believe in their qualities. I tell them all the time they are a quality group, they just need to believe and more and more I see they are doing it,” Broos said.
“It won’t be a normal game tomorrow. They must arrive with confidence and that is step one to victory.”