A year since they hosted the 19th edition of the FIFA World Cup™, Bafana Bafana have gone from strength to strength. The spotlight that shone on them with such intensity in 2010 prepared them not only for greater things on the global stage, but also gave them a growing confidence in Africa that has helped them on to the brink of qualifying for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations from a very difficult group.
South Africa's rise up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking - from 90th in April 2010 to 38th now - has been indicative of their progress. Even at the start of 2011, they were mired in the 50s, but a run of good results under coach Pitso Mosimane has momentum moving in the right direction. They are currently ranked fourth on the continent behind FIFA World Cup quarter-finalists Ghana, Côte D’Ivoire and Egypt, and just in the front of a chasing pack of Nigeria, Senegal and Algeria.
“We are getting results," said Mosimane recently. "It is not by luck that we have moved from position 58 in the world to the current 38. We were also placed 19th on the continent before, and today we are fourth. We are more organised now, so we are harder to break down. It’s a very good group of players.”
We were also placed 19th on the continent before, and today we are fourth. We are more organised now, so we are harder to break down. It’s a very good group of players.
Since welcoming the world last summer, when they drew 1-1 with Mexico and beat France but were eliminated at the group stage on goal difference, South Africa have won five matches, drawn two and lost just one. That lone friendly defeat by USA was merely a blip, as they defeated Ghana and, more crucially, took four points from a possible six off Egypt in qualifying for the 2012 African finals.
The Pharaohs were favourites heading into Group G, but their slow start to campaign was confirmed by a 1-0 loss in March in Johannesburg thanks to Katlego Mphela’s dramatic second-half injury-time winner. Bafana Bafana’s control of the table was confirmed earlier this month with an impressive scoreless draw in Cairo. They now sit on eight points, two ahead of Niger, three in front of the Sierra Leoneans - who held the South Africans to a scoreless draw in Freetown - and a full six ahead of Egypt with just two matches to play.
A September trip to Niamy to take on the impressive Nigeriens figures to be a crunch clash, and South Africa can qualify for the finals, to be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next January, if they win and Sierra Leone fail to beat the Egyptians. If that happens, their ranking will continue to go up, and they’ve already hit their best mark since 2005. Their all-time high point was in August 1996, when they hit 16th in the world months after winning their only major honour: the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations.
If they can continue their climb to those lofty heights remains to be seen, but after conquering Egypt one wouldn’t bet against it. A new confidence in the team has Bafana Bafana ready to make a new destiny and looking to equal those 1996 heroics. “The chances of us qualifying are very big, and we have our own fate in our hands,” said promising striker Mphela recently. "It's up to us."