WC Qualifier: Bafana Bafana legend Neil Tovey urges SA to focus on Zimbabwe

Bafana Bafana legend Neil Tovey has advised the national team players to not think too much about their 2022 World Cup qualifiers’ match away to Ghana on Sunday, saying they must focus on beating Zimbabwe at home on Thursday night.

Bafana have had an impressive campaign in their bid to qualify for the World Cup. They are top of Group G with 10 points, one ahead of the second-placed Ghana who stand between them and a place in the last round of qualifiers.

Bafana have their destiny in their own hands though. They’ll only need four points out of a possible six in order to reach the last round of the qualifiers, where only the five winners of that round will qualify for the finals in Qatar next year.

But Bafana cannot afford to leave it late. They’ll need to beat Zimbabwe when they host them at FNB Stadium on Thursday.

Most Zimbabwean players are playing in the South African top-flight, have played in or are aspiring to. That’s why it’s easy to plan for their downfall. But not the same can be said for the Ghanains who mostly boast overseas-based players.

That’s why Tovey, who was speaking at the launch of the national team’s 25th anniversary celebrations since their triumph in the Africa Cup of Nations, says focusing on Zimbabwe firstly, not Ghana, will draw the team closer to going to Qatar.

“It’s a big week for South African football. We, as the football fraternity, need happiness. It gives us the aspiration to go to the World Cup. Yes, there’s a further qualification process but it sets a little bit of belief,” the 59-year-old said on Tuesday.

“This generation of young players can really make a mark and they don’t realise what they’ve got on their shoulders. They’ve got a huge task. But it all starts with Zimbabwe at home. Let’s not look at Ghana (away, on Sunday) just yet.”

A win for Bafana against Zimbabwe and a loss for Ghana away to Ethiopia, at the Orlando Stadium early in the day, could also guarantee Bafana a spot in the next round of the qualifiers, regardless of what happens in their last encounter on Sunday.

Bafana’s qualification for the global showpiece would be an incredible feat for the nation. Not only would it be their fourth qualification in history and first since 2010 as hosts, but it would be achieved by a squad that’s made up of youngsters.

From those, there are players who’ve been lucky enough to play in major tournaments in the last half-a-decade or so: the Under-17 World Cup in 2015, two Under-20 World Cups in 2017 and 2019 and two Olympic Games in 2016 and 2020.

“To believe in themselves,” said Tovey when quizzed about what sort of advice he would give to the current crop of players. “Some of them already have the experience of playing at major tournaments: the junior World Cups and the Olympics.”

He continued: “They know what it is to play in those tournaments. So, draw from that experience where you want to go to the World Cup at a senior level. They can do it. What a wonderful occasion it is to play at the World Cup with the crowd.”

Meanwhile, Tovey says he’s still waiting for the day where he’ll be dethroned as the only Bafana captain to lift a major silverware. He achieved that feat by winning the continental showpiece in 1996 under the tutelage of Clive Barker at home.

The Bafana Class of ’96 is hellbent on giving back to local football. That’s why the 25th anniversary programme was launched, with the foundation of the late midfielder John “Shoes” Moshoeu, the Shoes of Wisdom (SOW), set to be the first recipient. TimesLive

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