Bafana Bafana seem to be in a perfect position to shout "Let the games begin!"
Shakes Mashaba's boys wrapped their Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) preparations in style, defeating Mali (who are ranked 49th in the world and 10th in Africa) 3-0 in their final friendly match in Gabon.
Not only did the team overcome their fancy opponents but they put up a pretty good show, more especially in the second half.
While they continued to start slow - something that had led a friend to opine that Bafana have become like a tractor that takes too long to warm up - they quickly picked up pace and their second half performance was just superb.
The team - which featured six new players from the one which started in the 1-all draw against Cameroon - also showed a lot of improvement and some urgency.
The two friendly matches must have done Mashaba and the players a lot of good as they have two opponents from west Africa in their group, which many have dubbed the Group of Death.
Besides the No 1- ranked Algeria whom they meet in their opener on Monday, January 19, Bafana will also lock horns with Senegal on January 23 and Ghana on January 27.
The two friendly matches also gave Mashaba a chance to juggle his team around, giving a number of players opportunities. Having allowed current No 1 goalkeeper Darren Keet some time off to be with his wife who is expecting their child, gave the coach an opportunity to have a look at the other goal-minders Brilliant Khuzwayo (Kaizer Chiefs) and Jackson Mabogoane (Mpumalanga Black Aces).
Save for Khuzwayo being beaten by a free kick that sailed over his head against Cameroon, the two 'keepers did not disappoint.
By now, Mashaba must have his starting line-up in his head.
One just hopes that the easy 3-0 win over Mali does not go to the players' heads and thus make them over-confident, which could just become their undoing. This should act as a morale-booster rather.
The result also ensured that Mashaba is unbeaten in his 10 matches since being appointed to the hot seat.
As it has been his style, Mashaba has kept the nation waiting and guessing on who will captain the team at the tournament.
Since taking over, Mashaba has used five captains in the late Senzo Meyiwa (may his soul rest in peace), Dean Furman, Thamsanqa Sangweni, Anele Ngcongca and Andile Jali.
Speculation is that Furman might be the man. However the coach has also proved to be quite unpredictable and tends to go against popular beliefs.
It will be a pity if Bafana don't make it past the group stages after finishing the qualifiers unbeaten.
I foresee two possible scenarios playing out.
One would be that they fail to go through but my second, and favourite, is that Bafana will surprise and go through.
Once this happens, there could be no stopping them as the draw might throw anyone even the weaker teams in the tournament their way.
But don't forget also that going through this group, might pit them against other giants, Ivory Coast in the next round.
All we can do as a nation, is keep our fingers crossed and give our boys all the support.
Let the games begin!
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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