Thu, 23 Jan 2020

Bafana's backdoor option at AFCON

18 Apr 2019, 23:42 GMT+10

Cape Town - Ebullient SAFA president Danny Jordaan and the less outspoken, but equally emphatic coach Stuart Baxter have both made it clear they are not thinking in anything but a positive direction after the victory over Libya assured Bafana Bafana's entry into the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt in June and July.

But after being drawn into what has been termed a tricky opening round 'Group of Death' along with Ivory Coast, Morocco and Namibia, it should be reassuring for South Africa that a comforting backdoor will also remain open to stay alive in the 24-team tournament and progress to the last 16 round.

This concession to avoid a shock early exit by any of the more fancied tournament drawcards is, of course, the result of CAF's benevolent rule for the event by which the two top teams in each of the six first-round groups of four nations will also be joined in the last 16 round by the four best-positioned third-placed teams.

This does not ensure Bafana a place in the second round even if they finish third after crossing swords with Ivory Coast and Morocco, both previous AFCON winners, and Namibia, thought of as less formidable adversaries, but still one with a proven record of recording upsets.

In a nutshell, in all probability, it will require something better than one victory and two defeats from the opening round to ensure a place in the second round along with the two top teams from each group.

There are justifiable reasons for Baxter's display of strong, yet guarded optimism, while pointing out that Bafana have a more creditable record against African opponents of stature than those considered in a lower bracket.

And he also points out that while Bafana only made it to Egypt after scaling the last hurdle against Libya that South Africa alone were unbeaten in a qualifying round that included fancied eventual winners Nigeria.

"I believe we have a squad that needs not be overawed in facing any of the other sides in Egypt," says Baxter, "but, at the same time, the right temperament for the occasion, grit and determination, avoiding complacency and even a slice of luck and good fortune can all be factors in making the difference between winning and losing.

As for Jordaan, he points somewhat dismissively to Bafana's past international results against opening round opponents, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Namibia in which South Africa have lost only one of 19 matches, with nine wins and nine draws - with "South Africa ready to take on anyone."

For the record, Bafana have previously played six games against Ivory Coast, winning twice and drawing on four occasions; opposing Morocco five times, winning twice and drawing three times and securing five victories from eight games against Namibia with two draws and one defeat.

The bookmakers and otherwise sages, however, have hosts Egypt, Senegal and Nigeria as the pre-tournament favourites, pointing to their respective top-level match winners of the calibre of Egypt's Liverpool-based Mohamed Salah, Senegal's Liverpool-based Sadio Mane and Nigeria's Arsenal-based

Alex Iwobi.

But, for all this, AFCON Finals have in the past come up with unexpected champions and one from this year's 'Group of Death' is not ruled out entirely.

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