Bafana must beware the 'unknown' islands
I am in the future once again. It is January 19, 2013. I am sitting inside FNB Stadium.
It is the opening ceremony of the 29th Africa Cup of Nations, as well as the curtain-raiser match between Bafana Bafana and the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde Islands, who are Africa Cup of Nations debutants.
It is a most unusual contest between a giant and a giant-killer. South Africa are giants of African football (having won the championship once and played in the World Cup). Cape Verde are giant-killers with their stunning defeat of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in October 2012.
The Blue Sharks definitely arouse curiosity and present an exciting challenge. The entire Cameroon population of 21 million is still in a daze of disbelief, unable to wake up from the nightmare that befell them last October. They are bewildered that an 'unknown' island of some 500 000 people defeated Africa's most successful team at the World Cup.
Cameroon have one of the most dreaded national football teams in the world. They are consistent, brutally and physically intimidating, always confident and supremely athletic. They have had some truly exceptional players - Roger Miller, Theophile Abega, Joseph Nkono, Ougene Manga, Oman Biyik, Samuel Eto’o, Rigobert Song and Alexander Song. They have also always been one of the most difficult teams in the world to play against. Ask all the teams that have ever faced them.
For Cape Verde to have taken Cameroon to the cleaners is, indeed, an achievement of no small dimension. How did Cape Verde do it? That is the million dollar question. How did Cape Verde, a team that had never participated in either the Afcon or the World Cup; that had never won anything major in Africa; that is almost unheard of in African football; do it?
There is something about Cape Verde that must not go unmentioned, lest anyone under-rate them at their own peril. Cape Verde is the origin of many players that have represented other countries and excelled such as Nani, Patrick Vieira (France) and Henrik Larsson (Sweden). So, the team may not be as 'empty' as their records paint. There is something there that Bafana Bafana must be aware of.
As we sit here, the kaleidoscope of colours and noises around us, that must also be the question uppermost on everyone's mind as we await the start of a match that promises to be intriguing.
How will the 'Creoles', as the Cape Verde national team is also known, perform here today?
It is time. The two teams are marching out onto the field to the tumultuous welcome of the whole of Africa. In 90 minutes all questions will be answered. Can South Africa top what they did in 2010 at the World Cup? Can they repeat what they did in 1996 at the Africa Cup of Nations on home ground? Are Cape Verde as good as their victory over Cameroon suggests?
The voice of Jacob Zuma, from a raised platform, fills the air. “Welcome to South Africa,” he says. “Let the matches begin.”