Big pressure on guava Bafana at Africa Cup


South Africa, which as a rule underperforms at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, is under immense pressure to excel at this year’s tournament in the Ivory Coast, vice-captain Percy Tau conceded.

The 1996 champions face title holders Tunisia, as well as Mali and Namibia in the group stage in Korhogo, one of the country’s northernmost host cities.

At this stage, there is still no consensus on who will survive the first so-called mini-leagues and which two teams will automatically qualify for the knock-out rounds. One thing that there is great consensus on is that Namibia will probably finish last and be eliminated. The country has not achieved any victory in the last three tournament appearances.

Tunisia and Mali produced consistent performances at the previous African spectacle, with South Africans hoping Bafana Bafana will not be another early victim of the tournament.

“It is incredibly difficult for us to please people – we are under tremendous pressure,” Tau said after a training session in Stellenbosch.

“We hope to be among the best teams in Africa, but this has not happened for some time,” said this Al Ahly player.

“Supporters wanted to catch snakes because two years ago we couldn’t even make it to the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. They are insisting that we bring back the cup from the Ivory Coast. Of course, this is also the players’ goal, but it will be extremely difficult.

“It’s going to be tough enough to get through the first round, and then the teams play four knockout games to win the tournament.”

Must be realistic

Captain and goalkeeper Ronwen Williams shared Tau’s view.

“We have to aim high, but we also have to be realistic. We were not regular qualifiers for the African Nations Cup for a long time.

“The intensity of the tournament is going to be a big challenge. Every three or four days you face top opponents.

“It can drain you mentally and physically. Experience is also crucial and unfortunately there are only three members of the team who participated in the 2019 tournament.”

After becoming only the third country, alongside Egypt and Ghana, to be crowned African champions at the first attempt, Bafana fell badly behind.

They finished first, second and third in their first three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, but failed to even qualify for four of the last seven tournaments.

Many South Africans’ hopes are on Belgian coach Hugo Broos, who helped Cameroon to victory against expectations in 2017.

“This is a completely different tournament than in Europe, because of the intensity. All the teams are 500% motivated,” said the 71-year-old former Belgian player.

Tunisian captain Youssef Msakni will make his eighth appearance in the tournament and his five qualifying goals paved the way to the final.

Tottenham Hotspur player Yves Bissouma is Mali’s big star and this country can probably expect to improve on their previous two tournaments.

Namibia’s hopes of ending nine goalless matches since 1998 rest heavily on captain Peter Shalulile, a consistent goalscorer who plays for South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns.