22 Jan 2015 13:30pm
DO OR DIE FOR BAFANA
Despite plenty of optimism from an expectant South Africa, Bafana Bafana are already playing for their lives as the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea enters its second round of fixtures.
A heavy 3-1 defeat to Algeria on Monday left the South Africans bottom of group C after their opening fixture, leaving Shakes Mashaba and his troops to pick up the pieces, having no choice but to beat Senegal in Mongomo on Friday.
South Africa come up against a victorious Senegal, beating Ghana with a last-gasp goal to seal a 2-1 win in the 90th minute, hours before Bafana's defeat to Algeria.
"It is not the kind of start we wanted," skipper Dean Furman said ahead of Friday's clash.
"We had worked hard for maximum points so the next two games are very crucial for us.
"We have to lift our heads and go for a win and thats all we need. The good thing is that we played some outstanding football out there. We are just very disappointed not to come out with a win."
Bafana welcome back Eric Mathoho in defence. The lanky Kaizer Chiefs centre-back was suspended for the opening game.
On Friday, however, his presence in the team will not only come as a welcome relief, but also out of necessity.
Rivaldo Coetzee started against Algeria but was stretchered off after 29 minutes with what looked like a serious blow to his knee.
South Africa's medical staff later ruled Coetzee out of contention against Senegal, leaving Mathoho to fill the void. Also back from suspension was Reneilwe Letsholonyane.
Things could have gone differently against Algeria, were it not for Tokelo Rantie's missed penalty after Thuso Phala had given South Africa the lead early in the second half.
Rantie could have given Bafana a 2-0 lead, but skied his penalty, hitting the crossbar and sailing over the goal.
Rantie, who said this week that he would have no qualms about taking another penalty in the tournament, urged his team-mates to focus on winning the next game.
"The penalty issue is gone and its time to move on," Rantie said.
"We cant change that result. The next games we play we have to make sure we collect maximum points because you cant stay in a tournament if you dont have points, if you dont score goals. We still have a chance."
Should South Africa lose to Senegal, and Ghana lose to Algeria in Friday's earlier kick-off, both nations would be eliminated from the tournament before their last group game against each other even gets underway.
A draw for South Africa would keep their hopes for a place in the knockout rounds alive, with a number of permutations, however, coming into play.