Bafana Bafana kick off their Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) campaign with history not on their side, having won only three of their opening encounters from eight tournaments in which they have participated.
The South Africans take on tournament favourites Algeria in Mongomo, Equatorial Guinea, on Monday evening with Mashaba’s men also drawn against Ghana and Senegal in one of the toughest groups in the competition.
Against Africa’s number-one ranked Desert Warriors, the 12th ranked Bafana team would be looking to register their first opening match win since Afcon 2004 in Tunisia, where they were 2-0 victors over Benin.
However, victory has not always guaranteed automatic passage into the next round as was proven in that tournament where, despite their positive start, South Africa failed to progress further than the group stages.
The two other occasions where Bafana secured three points from their opening matches were in 1996, when they beat Cameroon 3-0 – in a tournament they hosted and went on to win – and in 2000 when they overcame Gabon 3-1, eventually losing to Nigeria, in Lagos, in the semi-finals.
Not all bad news
However, it was not all bad news as they had only lost outright once – 2-0 to Guinea in their opening match in 2006, in Egypt while they drew their first games in the remaining four of their Afcon appearances.
Bafana Bafana have surpassed expectations under coach Shakes Mashaba, who took over the reins last August. They surged through the tournament qualifiers and had remained undefeated in Mashaba’s 10 matches in charge.
Although playing an attacking style, Bafana’s defence had been impressive having only conceded four goals during those games.
Their performances away from home had been particularly impressive, beating Sudan and Congo-Brazzaville on foreign turf, and would stand them in good stead in West Africa.
Bafana also enjoyed satisfactory pre-tournament preparations, having beaten Zambia (1-0) and Mali (3-0), and drawn with Cameroon (1-1).
Despite history being against them in the opening match, the one thing Bafana had going for them was form and they could use it to knock Algeria off their perch.
Furman to lead
Dean Furman has been handed the captain’s armband for Bafana’s opening fixture against Algeria.
Mashaba announced his team on the morning of Bafana’s mammoth clash against the continent’s top-ranked team, naming a formidable outfit dominated by players who took part during the qualification campaign.
Mashaba is without Kaizer Chiefs pair of Eric Mathoho and Reneilwe Letsholonyane, who are both suspended.
Rivaldo Coetzee and Tokelo Rantie passed fitness tests after shaking off niggling injuries, while Bernard Parker, also an injury concern, starts on the bench.
Coetzee is joined by Thulani Hlatshwayo in the heart of the defence, with Anele Ngcongca and Thabo Matlaba starting on the right and left respectively, while Darren Keet starts in goal.
Furman is once again partnered with Andile Jali in the middle of the park, with Thuso Phala and Oupa Manyisa on the flanks.
Sibusiso Vilakazi and Rantie start upfront.
In all, five players – Keet, Coetzee, Hlatshwayo, Jali and Vilakazi – will make their Afcon debuts.
The match kicks off at 9pm South African time.
South Africa: Darren Keet, Anele Ngcongca, Thabo Matlaba, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Rivaldo Coetzee, Dean Furman, Andile Jali, Oupa Manyisa, Thuso Phala, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Tokelo Rantie.
Replacements: Jackson Mabokgwane, Brilliant Khuzwayo, Ayanda Gcaba, Thamsanqa Sangweni, Themba Zwane, Mandla Masango, Bongani Zungu, Bernard Parker, Siyabonga Nhlapho, Bongani Ndulula. – Sapa, Staff reporter