Can Bafana win the Afcon in 2019? Yes they can
Bafana Bafana enter a crucial year in 2019 with their destiny far from certain and many questions to be answered around the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in June-July.
At the turn of the year South Africa have not yet qualified for the expanded continental finals‚ but could be given a golden ticket as hosts if the Confederation of African Football announce the country as the preferred bidder to host the competition.
They are up against Egypt‚ who ordinarily would be worthy hosts but are a country still in some turmoil‚ as evidenced by the roadside bomb that killed four tourists when it exploded under their bus just four days ago.
South Africa would certainly be the “safe” option‚ but whether government fully comes to the party and backs the bid with the funds needed is uncertain‚ with all to be revealed when Caf make their decision on January 9.
If South Africa do host the competition then it will increase Bafana’s chances of winning exponentially.
The side have only lost six of their 53 home qualifiers in Nations Cup and World Cup preliminaries‚ and their only defeat in 10 home Afcon finals matches was a dead rubber against Egypt in 1996.
Their exit at the hands of Mali in the quarterfinals in 2013 was via a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw‚ a game they really should have won.
The fact is that through all their troubles of recent times‚ the side remain hard to beat on home soil and it would be a massive boost to play the finals in their own stadia.
It is probably their best chance of coming out victorious‚ though as with any winning nation‚ they would need some luck and to convert their chances‚ which have both been in short supply of late.
If the award of the tournament goes to Egypt then Bafana must still qualify by getting a draw in their final preliminary fixture against Libya in March‚ a game that is likely to be played in either Tunisia or‚ ironically‚ Egypt.
Libya have used both venues in this qualification campaign as the volatile security situation in their own country makes hosting games impossible.
It will be a tough ask against a very good Libyan side‚ and how South Africa approach the game will be key – do they sit back and play for the draw or try and put their hosts under pressure?
Coach Stuart Baxter should have a number of injured stars back in contention – Dean Furman‚ Kamohelo Mokotjo‚ Keagan Dolly and perhaps also Bongani Zungu – who would all add significantly to their chances.
It is a hurdle they should overcome and if they can’t‚ then they simply do not deserve to be at the finals in any event.
Assuming they make passage‚ the question then becomes how competitive can they be in the finals.
South Africa have long been hailed by many opposing coaches as the best “passing” team on the continent‚ a side who can pick apart opponents and keep the ball. They are right.
The issue for some years has been finishing and it is hoped that with two real “guns” in the final third in the excellent Percy Tau and Lebo Mothiba‚ those concerns could be easing.
If Kermit Erasmus can have a good six months at Cape Town City then he would be a real boost to the forward stocks as well.
The midfield‚ when fully fit‚ looks strong and very capable‚ with Baxter more likely to have sleepless nights over who to leave out rather than worrying about options.
Defensively there is more concern‚ even if in this qualification campaign they have only conceded once in five matches‚ an excellent showing at the back.
Senegal showed in the World Cup qualifiers at the end of 2017 how the best teams on the continent are able to pick the Bafana backline apart and Nigeria were desperately unlucky to only score once in Bafana’s last qualifier in November when they were on the wrong end of some dubious offside calls.
Right-back remains an area of some concern and while Thulani Hlatshwayo has deservedly nailed down one of the centreback positions‚ who will partner him is the big question.
If Rivaldo Coetzee can show he has fitness and form for Mamelodi Sundowns over the next six months then he would be a strong option.
Bafana went to the 2015 Nations Cup finals under Shakes Mashab after an excellent qualification campaign and with some confidence‚ but took just a single point from the nine available in their pool play‚ finding the step up a level too high.
If they play in 2019 they will have to make similar improvements‚ have all of their players fit and count on lady luck if they are to make an impression at the business end of the competition.
Does Bafana have the players and ability to win the Nations Cup? The answer is ‘yes’. Are they among the favourites? That would be a resounding ‘no’. But then who picked Zambia as 2012 winners prior to that tournament‚ or a young Nigeria in 2013? Nothing is impossible.