It’s almost go-time for Bafana Bafana, who open their Afcon campaign on Monday, and coach Stuart Baxter believes the current crop have what it takes to make the nation proud.
South Africa face Ivory Coast in their opening game, and have been drawn in a tough Group D which includes the two-time winners, 1976 champions Morocco, plus a resurgent Namibian side.
It’s also a return to the continental showpiece for Bafana, who missed out on qualification last time around, and have not gone further than the first round since hosting the tournament in 2013.
The Brit, who is back for second stint as Bafana coach is, like most of his charges, looking forward to his first Afcon tournament, and promises a change in attitude from what the soccer-loving public in South Africa has become accustomed to.
“There might be times where South African national teams might have been accused of not achieving what their potential deserves in the field because of not having the right focus. That will not be the case with this group of players. This group of players have very small ego and very great South African heart. They enjoy playing for their country and I am sure they are going to give it their best,” he is quoted on the Safa website.
“We are playing against the best teams on the continent which we have in our group. We need not get intimidated but to play with respect and at the same time, give the opponents the respect they deserve but never fear them. We have to be better than they think, we have to be quicker than they think, better organised than they think and if we can do that, then I think they will then have to rethink their game plan.
“You can’t sit back and hope they will make a few mistakes because once the machine is rolling it is difficult to stop them. So yes, we got to respect what they can do but also make sure they have to deal with something we can do.”
The match between Ivory Coast and South Africa kicks off at 16:30.