It’s Bafana to win
It is still some eight weeks to the start of Afcon 2013. I am sitting in front of my crystal ball just as I promised. I drift into the future.
It is February 10, 2013. The curtains have been drawn on the end of the Africa Cup of Nations. There is now a winner and 15 'losers'.
I see a raised platform with football players waiting in line to be decorated by the CAF president, Issah Hayatou. He is accompanied by the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma.
The continent has just watched three weeks of the best of African football. Now it is time to crown the king. Which country do I see on the exalted podium?
Let me take you through the journey first.
It is South Africa all the way. The spirit of the championship, their position as hosts, the psychology of doing well in all the pre-championship friendly matches, creates a 'monster' for Morocco, Angola and Cape Verde.
Angola should have come through with South Africa from the group if only they played the last and not their second match against South Africa. The sequence of matches is very critical in these group matches and South Africa win their first two matches to be comfortable going into the knock-out stage.
So, Angola suffer and Morocco benefit by taking full advantage of their own last match against a South African team that does not need to play 'do-or-die' and risk everything by giving their all in their last match, having qualified earlier. That’s why Angola do not qualify from the group. In short, South Africa and Morocco go through in Group A.
There are some exciting matches here. Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo provide the best of them. That they played against each other in the first match provides the opportunity, no matter the result of their match, of carefully navigating through the other matches against Mali and Niger.
They easily secure a berth in the next round. The Congolese prove to be a strong team, because the core of the team comes from the TP Mazembe FC. They are to DR Congo what Barcelona FC are to Spain.
The Malians and the Nigeriens only make up the numbers in this group without enough ammunition to cope with the maturity of Ghana and the cohesiveness of the Congolese.
Ghana and DR Congo go through.
This is straightforward. Nigeria's 'coat of many brilliant colours' surely and entertainingly overcame Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. That, on the eve of the championship, Keshi is still inviting more and more players from the army of old Nigerian players all over Europe does not affect the team too much. Nigeria still creates a buzz here with some absolutely beautiful individual performances.
The major test, as is expected, comes from Zambia. Nigeria and Zambia play a very cautious 'arrangee' match, safely avoiding any bruising contest that might damage either of them and stop them from coming out of the group.
Zambia, as defending champions, play with confidence and eyes-on-the-trophy mentality. They outrun, outplay and overpower Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. Nigeria top the group nd Zambia come a close second.
On paper Ivory Coast looked like clear favourites, not just of the group but in the championship. Almost one year after disappointing at the last hurdle in Afcon 2012 in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, they are still 'wobbling and fumbling' to victory here. The 2012 team that was stronger failed to win. This one, with the same array of tired players that looks strong enough to take this championship, fail to do so, even if they go through this round.
Togo 'help' all the other teams build up their points.
The North Africans, Tunisia and Algeria, provide, perhaps, the match of the tournament when they meet each other. They bring out the best in each other whenever they meet. After that encounter they return to the hard reality of the rough and tumble of African football and one of them, Tunisia, falls by the wayside. The Algerians are slightly the stronger of the two North African teams and join Ivory Coast into the quarterfinals.
So, these are the eight teams that come through: South Africa and Morocco; Ghana and DR Congo; Nigeria and Zambia and Ivory Coast and Algeria.
South Africa take on DR Congo and win. Ghana rout Morocco.
Nigeria and Ivory Coast play a bruising match. This match inflicts too much damage on both teams and makes their semifinal match very difficult to win. The Super Eagles know they have to redeem their image against the Ivorians. They win this time for the first time in several previous championships.
Zambia and Algeria play one of the best matches of the championship. The North Africans find the Zambians easier to play against than any other team in the quarterfinals because of the way the Zambians play but the Zambians must survive to get to the finals and defend their crown. They fail. This bridge is too difficult for them to cross.
My crystal ball is getting hazy.
This is the ultimate test for the South Africans. They need to cross this line to win the championship. If they meet Ghana it will be bye-bye to their dream of repeating their 1996 feat. Should they meet Morocco they will arrive the finals confident that at that point no team can stop them. The whole of South Africa goes down on their knees in prayer. Who do they meet?
The second semifinal is between…I am getting confused now. Algeria or Nigeria?
My eyes are now playing tricks with my mind. Is it Ghana versus Algeria, or South Africa versus Nigeria.
What’s happening here?
I hear a loud shrill in my ears!
I open my eyes, my heart pounding.
I am staring at the blank crystal ball before me. I had fallen asleep.
I am relieved. I will no longer have to put my neck on the chopping block predicting anything anymore.
It has all been a dream. Or has it?
I am thinking. Just before I woke up, did I not hear the sound of the vuvuzela, plus the faint chants of 'Bafana Bafana' reverberating in the distant recesses of my mind?