Keagan Dolly and South Africa face two matches against Senegal
Bafana Bafana will qualify for Russia 2018 if they win both games
A star in South Africa, Dolly recently opted for European football with Montpellier
"If the match against Burkina Faso was like a World Cup final, I can tell you that playing Senegal will be even more important." So says South Africa coach Stuart Baxter, a man with a talent for finding the right words. And judging by his team's most recent performance, those words tend to hit home.
Baxter's side could settle for nothing short of victory against Burkina Faso last time out, with their dream of reaching the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ hanging by a thread. They responded the best way possible, taking all three points to seize control of their Group D destiny with two games to go – a home and away showdown with Senegal.
The stakes could not be higher, but as midfielder Keagan Dolly explained to FIFA.com: "Everything depends on us now. We don't need to worry about other results. We just have to go out on the pitch with nothing else on our minds and win these two games. Beating Burkina Faso gave us the confidence we needed for our two remaining matches."
• Keagan Dolly in profile:
- Born 22 January 1993 in Johannesburg (24 years old) - Position: attacking midfielder - Club career: Ajax Cape Town, Mamelodi Sundowns, Montpellier - CAF Champions League winner in 2016 - Appeared at the FIFA Club World Cup 2016 - Captained South Africa at the Rio 2016 Men's Olympic Football Tournament
Confidence may be high now, but it is almost a miracle that South Africa can still qualify at all. Before their win against Burkina Faso, Bafana Bafana had just one point on the board and were also hit with the news that their away fixture against Senegal needed to be replayed – after having already won there.
The circumstances are unusual, but Dolly has dealt with adversity before. In fact, this is not the first time he has been handed a second chance to shine following an administrative decision. While playing for Mamelodi Sundowns last year, he and his side were knocked out of the CAF Champions League before the group stage, only to be reinstated after their conquerors, Vita Club, fielded an ineligible player. A few months later, Sundowns went on to lift the trophy.
"We can use that as a motivation," said Keagan, grinning broadly as he recalled that unlikely triumph. "We can turn this event in our favour because some of us have already been in a situation where everything seemed lost and we ended up winning the title. If we play the same way we did against Burkina Faso, we can pull off a miracle."
South Africa could do worse than draw inspiration from that match, having excelled in all departments – especially up front, where they slotted in three goals for the first time in 12 outings. "That's a problem that affects South African football in general," said Dolly, scorer of two goals in his first four international appearances. "We tend to lose our composure in front of goal. We take too long to make a final decision or find the best position to shoot from. But after scoring three times against Burkina Faso, we've realised we're capable of making the right decisions in attack."
Dolly also feels he made the right decision by joining Montpellier this summer. A star in the South African championship and nominated for the 2016 African player of the year award, he took a big leap into the unknown – but has struggled so far for playing time. "I wanted to get out of my comfort zone," he explained. "I thought that if I stayed in South Africa, I'd stagnate and always be the same player. By going to Europe, I've started to learn a lot, I'm picking up experience and I hope to become a better player. My time will come, and when it does I'll seize my chance."
In the meantime, he could certainly boost his cause with a pair of stand-out displays against Senegal. After all, as his coach underlined, these next two games are set to be "more important than a World Cup final"
• Keagan Dolly on …
… the 2016 CAF Champions League The best feeling possible! What we felt is something I'll cherish for the rest of my life.
… the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup A wonderful experience, and a whole different level of football. Coming from South Africa and playing at that level opened my eyes and made me want to come up against the best teams in the world more regularly. It made me realise I really wanted to go to Europe to get closer to them.
… the Rio 2016 Olympic Football Tournament Just being at the Olympic Games is something a lot of footballers don't get to experience. And to be team captain, play against Neymar and get a draw was simply extraordinary. To win the Champions League, play in the Club World Cup and face Brazil at the Olympics in the same year makes that the best year of my life.
… Steven Pienaar We come from the same neighbourhood and often get compared. He's always been a model for me, someone I've admired since I was very young, but above all he's a model for every South African.
… the 2010 World Cup It was the best thing that's ever happened to football in our country. The stadiums were full, people around the world got to know South Africa, and the whole country was united.
… the 2018 World Cup I hope I'll get the chance to help my country qualify. I've already experienced the Olympics and the Club World Cup, and my only dream now is to experience a World Cup.