Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba was certainly not scared to put his head on the chopping block after the midweek draw for the African Nations Cup finals, which start on January 17 in Equatorial Guinea.
“We will get through the group,” he predicted despite South Africa’s horror draw, paired in Group C in Mongomo with Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.
But he will need more than just stereotypes in his planning if he is to fulfil the confident forecast. Algeria, Mashaba said, were “very slick and skilful”; Senegal “strong and physical” and Ghana in a similar period of transition, with a changing of the guard, as Bafana.
South Africa meet Algeria first on January 19 in the town where Equatorial Guinea’s long-standing dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, hails from, a village now transformed with a basilica, a five-star hotel and other expressions of vanity.
Algeria are the top-ranked country in Africa after a second-round place at the World Cup in Brazil in mid-year and winning five of their six Nations Cup qualifiers in the most impressive of the preliminary performances.
Bafana’s second game is against Senegal on January 23 and they conclude against Ghana four days after that in Mongomo. If they advance, South Africa will either stay in the town or move to the capital Malabo for the quarterfinal.
Senegal eliminated record-winners Egypt from the preliminaries and lost just once in their qualifying group, to a last-gasp goal in Tunisia in October. Ghana were not as fluid as usual en route to the finals and have just appointed Avram Grant as their coach.
They will miss the talismanic influence of Kwadwo Asamoah of Juventus, out for the next three months after knee surgery. But the Black Stars remain a considerable force.