|The only way is up: President Zuma draws Cape Verde last night|
There is one simple way of showing – with a level of scientific accuracy but no footballing nous – why Bafana Bafana boss Gordon Igesund can be reasonably happy with last night’s yawn-a-minute AFCON 2013 draw.
It amounts to a simple mathematical formula for each of the groups drawn to compete in qualifying for the 29th African Cup of Nations, which we now know will kick-off with South Africa playing the volcanic Cape Verde Islands at Soccer City on January 19 next year.
All you have to do to highlight the Group of Death is add up the current FIFA rankings of each team and the lower the total, the tougher the task. On that basis, we can come up with this:
GROUP A (Durban)
South Africa 76
Cape Verde 51
GROUP B (Port Elizabeth)
DR Congo 103
GROUP C (Mbombela)
Burkina Faso 91
GROUP D (Bafokeng)
Ivory Coast 16
Clearly, on that basis, Group D is our Group of Death, rated 107 FIFA ranking points tougher than South Africa’s Group A, with all four sides capable of finishing in the top two spots and emerging from their pool.
But there are other reasons for Gordon to be happy with the draw. For instance Angola, Cape Verde and Morocco are three nations NEVER triumphant over Bafana in competitive action.
The nine volcanic islands of Cape Verde (there are actually ten, but one cannot sustain a permanent population), which lie 570km west of Africa, produced a footballing miracle by edging out Samuel Eto’o’s four-time winners Cameroon in their final qualifying round.
But with a population of just 500,000, the former Portuguese colony (uninhabited prior to discovery in the 15th century) have lost both times they’ve come across South Africa on the football field, 2-0 in Bloemfontein and 2-1 in their capital, Praia. Sure, they've risen over 150 places in a little over two years but surely they can't travel all this way and stun Africa on January 19?
Angola saw off Zimbabwe to qualify – but only on away goals after a dynamic double from a bloke called Mateus Alberto Contreiras Goncalves in Luanda. The 29-year-old striker, known as Manucho, was due to be a great African star when he signed for Manchester United eight years ago, but he made only one competitive appearance at Old Trafford in three seasons.
As his career dwindles in Spain and Turkey, Manucho remains a threat. His 21 goals in 38 Palancas Negras appearances suggests trouble, but if Igesund can wrap him up in Siya Sangweni and Bongani Khumalo, the chances are Bafana will extend an unbeaten record of six games, three wins and three draws when the nations meet in Durban on January 23.
It’s Morocco, ranked just one better than South Africa, which should worry those headed for the Moses Mabhida on January 27. Though Bafana boasts two wins and a draw against a side slipping down the world rankings, Igesund will know the arrival of new coach Rachid Taoussi, in place of Belgium Eric Gerets, saw the Atlas Lions turn a 2-0 deficit in Maputo in to a 4-0 romp in Marrakesh in their final qualifying effort against Elias Pelembe’s Mozambique.
Igesund was all smiles after the draw at the Albert Luthuli International Conference Centre in Durban, which dragged on for nearly two hours after three too many speeches pushed Africa’s moment in the spotlight to a mere sideshow on a night of Champions League action in Europe which showcased so many African stars on Wednesday night.
Igesund, like all of us, held his breath when Nigeria emerged as the last ball drawn from the goldfish bowl. They ended up in Mbombela with champions Zambia and Gordon admitted: “It was touch and go! I though we were going to get the Nigerians! But look, all draws are tough and it was really a fairly good one for us. I think Morocco can be giants in Africa.”
Igesund’s counterpart Taoussi said: "It's a good group. It's hard, since South Africa is the host country and has home support."
Nigeria, who take on Burkina Faso first in Nelspruit, may be the shock troops of SA2013 with vast local ex-pat support. Coach Stephen Keshi, fresh from a 6-1 qualifying thumping of Liberia, played down his chances, insisting Burkina Faso, champions Zambia and Emmanuel Adebayor’s Togo are all “very good”.
But somehow, with the aging Ivory Coast in the Group of Death, a Nigeria v South Africa confrontation on February 10 at Soccer City seems as likely an African finale as any.