The short answer this time is that when team's are tied on points, then Fifa uses goal difference to decide which nation finishes ahead.
If that doesn't separate the teams then goals scored is the next criteria. Only when all these factors are still the same, then the head-to-head points between the teams will determine the standing.
The Best Case Scenario
So, with just a few games remaining it is getting easier to walk through the possibilities. The best route to qualify is for Bafana Bafana to win all three of their remaining games against Burkina Faso (at home on October 7) and the Senegal double header. In case you didn't hear the news, South Africa has to replay their home game against Senegal on November 12. A few days earlier there's the away game on November 6 which is arguably the most difficult of these three remaining ties.
Even if Bafana wins all three games, in itself a tremendously difficult task, they are not guaranteed to finish first. This is what needs to happen elsewhere for SA to keep their noses ahead. Firstly if South Africa beats Burkina Faso, in the other game hosts Cape Verde must draw against Senegal.
Then when SA visits Senegal, Cape Verde will travel to Burkina Faso. A draw in that game for Burkina Faso will be best for Bafana. Taking all these four results into consideration then Burkina Faso will finish with seven points and Cape Verde will have eight points. Senegal will have six and Bafana seven, with just both these teams having their last game to play. A victory for Bafana Bafana at home against Senegal will then guarantee them a place in Russia.
Just looking at the two games against Senegal, South Africa could still book their ticket for Russia if they win one and draw one and if all the other results mentioned go as planned. This underlines how South Africa were in the driving seat until messing their advantage against Cape Verde.
The Complicated Scenario
Though, it is more likely that in one of the other games, one of South Africa's rivals will pick up at least one win. That would mean Bafana Bafana will have to win all three games. If that happens then only Cape Verde could overtake Bafana Bafana. If Cape Verde wins their two remaining games they will certainly go to the World Cup. If Cape Verde wins one game and draws the other, then they could be tied on 10 points with SA. At the moment both Bafana and Cape Verde have a goal difference of minus two. So, that means healthy victories for Bafana Bafana such as by two goals in both wins, will place them in a favourable position. Bafana Bafana must have a superior goal difference to Cape Verde, due to the latter's head-to-head superiority.
In conclusion, if you look at all the factors, Cape Verde's unlikely to win both their remaining two games. So, three wins in a row for SA will very likely take Bafana through.
Can Bafana Bafana do it?
Working everything out on paper is one thing, but it's a totally different matter whether South Africa can actually win all three games or even gain seven more points.
With injuries to Thulani Hlatshwayo and Rivaldo Coetzee (plus Erick Mahotho suspended) at the back, I'm not sure if Bafana Bafana believe they can do it. At the moment it seems everything is falling apart. So SA needs to be mentally strong to pull it off and that's an attitude that was lacking against Cape Verde. However with the odds stacked against them, you could say that SA will know they will have to throw the kitchen sink at Burkina Faso on Saturday. In this way I think we can beat them, but I'm not sure if we can then avoid defeat in Senegal. At best I think we'd end up with eight points in the group and hope the other results go our way. The way we've been playing under Stuart Baxter, based on form, we are more likely to finish last in the group but something has to change and we are due an important win.
It would be exciting if we can win this weekend, then draw away to Senegal (and with two draws elsewhere by our opponents) we could be setup with a scenario that if we beat Senegal at home in our last game, then we will progress. I would like to see that happen, but there's a lot of negativity among the fans lately. Two terrible defeats to Cape Verde and having to replay Senegal has added to our woes. Most are expecting SA's chances to be over this weekend. What I believe doesn't matter. What matters is if the player's believe they can do it, so the supporters need to get behind them and urge them on.