Dream AFCON draw for Bafana
Sport24 columnist S'Busiso Mseleku (File)
Bafana Bafana could not have hoped for a better draw than they got for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
President Jacob Zuma's hand pulled out debutants the Cape Verde to face South Africa in the opening game on January 19 at the FNB Stadium. The other teams in Group A that will be based in Durban, are Angola and Morocco.
It will be folly though for Bafana Bafana and their coach Gordon Igesund to underestimate The Blue Sharks who will be making their first appearance in the continental showpiece as they really earned their qualification the hard way by eliminating one of African football’s giants, Cameroon.
It is worth noting that Bafana Bafana are in the tournament by virtue of being hosts, having failed to qualify for the past two versions hosted by Angola in 2010 and jointly by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon earlier this year.
While the other nations were engaged in grueling qualifiers, South Africa have had to rely on a sprinkling of international friendly matches for their preparation as they qualify automatically for this tournament as hosts.
Pressure will be on the team to emulate the Class of 1996 who won the trophy on home soil.
The elimination of Cameroon and five-time African champions Egypt from the tournament shows that the pendulum has swung in African football.
Even defending champions Zambia had to rely on a penalty shootout to eliminate Uganda to make it to the last 16.
The entire field of the nations who have qualified for this edition looks quite impressive and nine of them were also in Equatorial Guinea/Gabon for the last tournament.
Ethiopia, once a powerhouse in African football, make their 10th appearance at the finals but their first after a 31-year absence.
Niger will be appearing for only their second time in the tournament.
The Democratic Republic of Congo who are in Group B with Ghana, Mali and Niger and will be based at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Port Elizabeth, have won this tournament twice in 1968 and 1974.
Defending champions, Chipolopolo of Zambia lead Group C that will be based at the Mbombela Stadium in Mpumalanga. The other teams in this group are Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.
The Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg will host Group D that is led by The Elephants of Ivory Coast with Tunisia, Algeria and Togo completing the group.
West Africa continues with their domination as the region has six countries in the tournament. North Africa did not do so well this time as they only have three qualifiers which is the same number as Southern Africa which usually struggles in this tournament.
Southern Africa has only produced two winners, South Africa (1996) and Zambia (2012) since the tournament started in 1956.
Bafana Bafana can draw inspiration from the Class of 1996 that won their opening match 3-0 over Cameroon at a packed FNB Stadium and usurped Tunisia 2-0 in the final.
The FNB was also the venue that saw Siphiwe Tshabalala score the opening goal of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
These should act as incentives for Bafana Bafana and drive them to victory in the opening match before relocating to Durban to continue with the rest of their group matches.
Nothing should act as more of an incentive than the fact that if they make it all the way through, they will be back at the FNB Stadium for the final.
Now Igesund has got his work cut out for him as he knows all four teams his charges will face in the first round robin of the tournament. He can now thoroughly study video footage from their matches and carefully plot their downfall.
South Africa - being a nation of winners - the country expects nothing less than victory at home. But, do we have the players to do it?
That question will be answered in January.S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.
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