Johannesburg - South Africa have rallied after a poor start to 2014, a year in which the team had to cope with the death of captain and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa, who was killed in a burglary in late October. After years of disappointing results, the Bafana Bafana go into the Africa Cup of Nations with renewed confidence.
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Last January South Africa's Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula referred to the national soccer team as "a bunch of losers" after they were knocked out of the opening round of the African Nations Championship (Chan).
A year later it's a different picture for the 1996 AFCON champions.
The team, under new coach Shakes Mashaba, have not lost in 11 games and are brimming with confidence ahead of the competition that starts in Equatorial Guinea on January 17.
"In 1996 we set the standard that we are championship material," Mashaba told journalists in Johannesburg before the team's departure for the tournament.
"With this team we are trying to revive that spirit and show that we are one of the best
"We are coming back after the 10th of February after the final is played."
Bafana Bafana (Boys, Boys) as the team is known, start their tournament with a Group C game against Africa's No 1 ranked Algeria in Mongomo on Monday.
Their other group games are against Senegal on January 23 and Ghana on January 27 in what is regarded as the tournament's "group of death."
David Minchella, a journalist for South Africa's largest football newspaper Soccer Laduma, believes Mashaba's "over confident" remarks have placed unnecessary pressure on his players.
"We've never been the mentally strongest football team and so by setting such high and quite frankly unrealistic expectations of the team, I believe Shakes has set Bafana up to fail," Minchella said.
"We'll be out in the group stages - I'm sorry to say. The relative ease of qualification was a false dawn."
South Africa have not had to face a high pressure situation in a game since the start of their winning streak, said Minchella.
"When we do face adversity, we tend to crumble," he said.
Bafana have performed dismally since they won the AFCON tournament in 1996, despite being one of the best resourced teams in Africa. They are currently ranked number 51 in the world.
The murder of captain and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa by a burglar late last year and stern mentoring by Mashaba appears, however, to have rallied the team.
Meyiwa, the team's goalkeeper, was shot in front of his girlfriend when two men entered a house in a neighbourhood outside of Johannesburg around 8 pm on October 26.
Mashaba, 63, who replaced Gordon Igesund in July last year, has coached Bafana before, between 2002 to 2004.
Bafana's preparations for the tournament began early in January with a 1-0 win in a warm-up match against former AFCON champions Zambia in Johannesburg.
On Sunday, they drew 1-1 with Cameroon in another warm-up game.
A host of players including striker Bernard Parker, midfielders Thuso Phala, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Bongani Zungu have made strong impressions as Mashaba tested new combinations.
Bafana captain Dean Furman was full of praise for his teammates after the Cameroon game.
"We got off to the worst possible start so early in the game and for about 20 minutes we didn't recover from that, but started picking up in the last 15 minutes of the first half," Furman said.
"We had a good talk with the coach at halftime and he told us to believe in our ability, believe in our team and that's what we did."
The AFCON tournament kicks off in Bata on Saturday with Equatorial Guinea playing Congo. The final match is set for the same venue on February 8, 2015.