Let the games begin
The countdown to what promises to be the most exciting football competition in Africa has truly begun, with just two days to go until South Africa hosts Afcon 2013.
After the World Cup and the Uefa Champions League, this is the next biggest football event in the world and all the teams who have qualified from Africa have arrived to compete.
I recall discussing the quality of the stadiums with former Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who agreed that, collectively, South Africa has some of the biggest and best football grounds in the world.
With the supporting infrastructure of classy hotels, good transport and great cuisine, all we need now is a team to perform to their capabilities on the day that they play and emulate the class of 1996.
Of course the 1996 squad, which I coached, had the inspiration of the greatest leader of all time in then president, Nelson Mandela.
He visited the team often during the course of the tournament. I vividly remember him coming to the hotel on the eve of our opening match against Cameroon. I sent our captain, Neil Tovey, to meet him. Mandela walked in with his entourage. If anybody made a sudden movement near the legendary statesman one of his security guards would move very swiftly in that direction.
He addressed the team and assured us of his support. I felt the burden of responsibility to win at all costs for the nation and this wonderful man. I believed it would in some small measure repay Madiba for what he had done for us. I did not sleep easy that night but by the end of the tournament we were able to hold our heads high.
The current Bafana team are a top quality side and are fortunate in that they have a good coach in Gordon Igesund and a sound technical staff to guide them. Of course they have the potential to reach the semifinals.
Drawn in group A, alongside Cape Verde, Morocco and Angola, Igesund will undoubtedly target Cape Verde and aim to achieve a positive result in the opening match.
We did just that that against Cameroon in the 1996 tournament. It was the ‘Shoes’ Moshoeu/Philemon Masinga show where, in front of a capacity crowd at the National Stadium, we outplayed Cameroon to win comfortably 3-0.
Igesund will want something similar from his charges and, in this group, Cape Verde look the likely candidate to target. It will be important to play with authority, style and confidence. Bafana need to set the standard for this major competition.
Following on from the Algeria friendly, I expect the team to be more organised in dead-ball situations, which is one of Igesund’s specialities.
Despite the sceptics, I believe Igesund has a talented group at his disposal.
Itumeleng Khune is a safe presence in goal but I’ve have always wondered why he never played as a striker. Only Eric Cantona of Manchester United fame stroked the ball better!
The centre-backs, Bongani Khumalo and Siyabonga Sangweni, are solid and imposing. The midfield is a mixture of strength in Kagisho Dikgacoi and flair in Siphiwe Tshabalala, Thulani Serero and the ever-improving Thuso Phala.
Up front Katlego Mphela is getting better with someone playing alongside him. I have no doubt that, with the personnel at their disposal, Bafana will settle on a 4-4-2 system. Igesund is well aware that goals win matches and competitions. Finding the back of the net eases the pressure off the entire group.
If Bafana get a positive result from their opening match, the groundswell of the entire nation will be felt from Cape to Cairo.
All good teams take chances and my advice to the players would be to play off the cuff, improvise at times and, when you set up opportunities, take advantage of them. Value the pass, keep possession and don’t stop working as a unit.
Finally, enjoy the moment as this is your stage and you deserve the opportunity to showcase your talent.
All of South Africa will break out in goose bumps when we sing our great anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
Let’s get Africa’s football showpiece on the road. Good luck coach, good luck Bafana!