Bafana’s Afcon Group D – how the opposition shapes up
After the hype of qualification‚ and with a talented team spearheaded by Percy Tau and Lebo Mothiba‚ Bafana Bafana will not want to disappoint with a first-round exit at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
But a glance at the lineups of the heavyweights they were pitted against in Group D for Egypt 2019 in the draw ceremony in front of the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo on Friday night reveals it will not be easy‚ of course‚ for South Africa.
The fourth team in Group D are neighbours Namibia.
The top two sides from the six groups‚ and four best third-placed finishers‚ reach the last-16.
With Morocco and Ivory Coast boasting players from top clubs in Europe it will be the greater togetherness of SA‚ who possess a predominantly Premier Soccer League-based squad‚ bolstered by an overseas brigade‚ that will need to come to the fore for a good showing.
TimesLIVE looks look at Morocco‚ Ivory Coast and Namibia: Morocco (Fifa world ranking 45th‚ Africa 4th)
They are the highest-ranked team in the group and have the coach who is currently the most-respected in Africa – Herve Renard‚ who won the Afcon with unheralded Zambia in 2012‚ and his group opponents Ivory Coast in 2015.
Despite their obvious pedigree‚ having played in four World Cups‚ including Russia 2018‚ the Atlas Lions have won just one Nations Cup‚ and that was way back in 1976.
They have one third-placed and two fourth-placed finishes and were losing finalists against hosts Tunisia in 2004.
With Renard pulling the strings now – and the Frenchman having restored underachieving Morocco’s competitive edge with a World Cup qualification last year – the Lions will aim to put that record to rights in a North African Nations Cup.
Morocco had a relatively easy qualification‚ where they (first place) and Cameroon (second place) were able to stroll past Malawi and Comoros (five points each) and finish on 11 points apiece in Group B.
Bafana will take note that there were some unconvincing results along the way for the Lions. They could only beat Comoros 1-0 at home and drew 0-0 away‚ and also drew by the same margin away against Malawi.
Hakim Ziyech‚ the 26-year-old Ajax Amsterdam forward‚ was their top scorer with three goals. Spanish-based Youssef En-Nesyri of La Liga club Leganes scored twice.
Saudi-based winger Nordin Amrabat‚ Zamalek striker Khalid Boutaib‚ and playmaker Faycal Fajr of French Ligue 1 battlers SM Caen scored a goal each.
Morocco’s squad to meet Malawi in March had just two players based in their home country. Ivory Coast (Fifa world ranking 65th‚ Africa 11th)
Morocco are ranked higher but in terms of talent‚ Ivory Coast might have more of it‚ and they also have more recent success in the Afcon having won it under Renard in 2015 in Equatorial Guinea.
That title came at the end of the careers of most of a golden generation of Ivorians – Yaya and Kolo Toure‚ Salomon Kalou‚ Gervinho – for whom a Nations Cup victory had been distressingly unattainable.
So now‚ of course‚ Ivory Coast are rebuilding.
When Ibrahim Kamara was appointed to replace Belgian Marc Wilmots as head coach in July 2018‚ association vice-president Sory Diabate said the appointment was with an eye to restructuring‚ and the team were not expected to make too much impact at Egypt 2019.
But Kamara has players based in good European leagues.
Les Elephants might have finished second in qualifying Group H to an impressive Guinea‚ but they scored 12 goals (the joint third-highest with three other teams – Bafana scored 11)‚ and only conceded five. Central African Republic and Rwanda were third and fourth in the group.
And they are a team with a lot of players who can contribute goals – four players scored two apiece in the qualifiers‚ and four more notched one.
Their scorers of two goals were the Manchester United defender Eric Bailly‚ Olympique Lyonnais forward Maxwel Cornet‚ Girona forward Seydou Doumbia and Aston Cilla forward Jonathan Kodjia.
Lille winger Nicolas Pepe and Fulham midfielder Jean Michael Seri were among the players on one goal.
Tottenham Hotspur right-back Serge Aurier and Bailly are two of the 2015 Afcon campaigners still in the squad‚ and Kamara also has Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Adama Traore to call on. Namibia (Fifa world ranking 113th‚ Africa 28th)
Bafana should generally stroll past their neighbours‚ as they did in a 4-1 group stage win on their path to the 1998 Afcon final‚ where Benni McCarthy scored South Africa’s only hat-trick.
But it is often the smaller teams South Africa need to be most wary of‚ because Bafana are notorious for dropping points against such opposition.
Namibia came through a weak Group K where they finished second to Guinea-Bissau (nine points) with eight points‚ finishing above fellow Southern Africans Mozambique (eight points‚ on head to head) and Zambia (seven).
Long-time coach and former Cape Town Santos forward Ricardo Mannetti’s biggest stars are mostly PSL-based‚ including Bidvest Wits winger Deon Hotto‚ goalkeepers Virgil Vries of Kaizer Chiefs and Maximillian Mbaeva of Golden Arrows‚ and Highlands Park’s skilful playmaker Peter Shalulile.
Former Platinum Stars forward Benson Shilongo now turns out for Ismaily in Egypt.
Namibia have qualified for two Nations Cup finals‚ where they are yet to win a game. They have two draws and four defeats from their appearances in 1998 and 2008.
Bafana Bafana’s 2019 Afcon fixtures –
June 24: Ivory Coast v South Africa (Al Salam Stadium‚ Cairo)
June 28: South Africa v Namibia (Al Salam Stadium‚ Cairo)
July 1: South Africa v Morocco (Al Salam Stadium‚ Cairo)