South Africa face a stern test in their hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as they travel to Ethiopia to face the group leaders. Bafana Bafana have done half the job with a slick 3-0 victory on the road in their World Cup qualifier against the Central African Republic last Saturday, but Ethiopia at altitude in Addis Ababa is a much tougher prospect. The win at the neutral Cameroon stadium was South Africa’s first away victory in a World Cup qualifier since 2008. Now Bafana need another in hostile Addis Ababa, which is 2,400m above sea level, against an Ethiopian side that have won both their home matches against the other teams in the group so far. Ethiopia beat Botswana 2-1 in Gaborone on Saturday and top Group A with ten points. If South Africa, on eight points, win on Sunday, they will have their destiny in their own hands when they face Botswana at home in their final match in September.
To Win (90mins)
South Africa 17/20
The Walia Antelopes continued their bid for a first ever World Cup appearance last Saturday with that 2-1 away win over Botswana, to maintain their position on top of Group A. Forward Getaneh Kebede put Ethiopia ahead in the 33rd minute and Said Salahdin doubled the lead on the stroke of halftime. Botswana’s Sembowa pulled one back on 76 minutes but Ethiopia held on for a third consecutive victory.
The South Africans remained in camp in Cameroon before leaving for Addis Ababa on June 14, two days ahead of their clash with Ethiopia. “We have to remain in Cameroon to deal with the issue of the high altitude in Ethiopia,” coach Gordon Igesund said. “Ideally we should be in Addis Ababa at least twelve days or so before the match. But seeing that we are unable to, we have to go in as late as possible, play our match and get out before we suffer from high altitude.” Igesund admitted the altitude in Addis Ababa has him concerned. “Johannesburg is at 1,600m, Addis Ababa is 800m higher. So there’s no air up there. I’ll try and save the players with the way we play tactically. And I’ve brought a team in which I have players who can change a game, like Richard Henyekane and Tlou Segolela, if I want to go that route, and get players in behind Ethiopia.”
The victory against CAR was all the more impressive given that Bafana had travel setbacks — two cancelled flights saw them take three days to reach Yaounde — and defensive injuries. “We’ve had good games, but I think this was a good win,” Igesund said. “I’m really pleased about a lot of things. We’re not conceding goals, we’re scoring goals. In our last three games, we scored three (on Sunday), two against Lesotho, two against CAR in Cape Town.” Bafana players have said the higher frequency of chances the team is creating is due to the direct football Igesund has instilled.
VERDICT: South Africa 17/20
With both teams having won their respective matches they will go into this clash in high spirits and an end-to-end match is expected. Bafana dominated the reverse match against the East Africans last year under then coach Pitso Mosimane, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw. Under Igesund Bafana look more formidable in attack and are tipped to rise to the occasion and get the victory to take them one step closer to qualifying for the World Cup.