Tuesday, 2 December 2014

GOING TO POT: Why South Africa have no need to fear the AFCON draw

ON TOP OF THE PILE: Furmidable captain Dean Furman leads the Bafana celebrations
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LET'S GET ONE THING STRAIGHT. When the AFCON 2015 draw takes place in Malabo tomorrow at 8pm we should be HAPPY. Proud to see our beloved Bafana Bafana in the draw.

As I have said repeatedly, South Africa have over-achieved in the four short months since Ephraim "Cheap but Sensible" Mashaba took charge at the end of July.

We were supposed to be building for a distant World Cup. Shakes was appointed with one eye on SAFA's "VISION 2022" philosophy.

The poor bloke was hamstrung from the start, touring West Africa with his Under 20 AmaJitas when he got the job. He won the Coach of the Year award for his success with the youngsters just last week. Then he stepped in to those huge national coach shoes again... and faced the multiple onslaughts of Itumeleng Khune's injury, Ebola, Senzo's murder and various players suffering fatigue and missed flights.

But tomorrow night at 8pm, Bafana Bafana will be in the draw. Qualified without hosting. In Pot 3. And mighty Nigeria, the Super Eagles, the reigning champions, are POTLESS. Steve Keshi took it on the chin from Shakes. And is still groggy.

I spoke to our "Furmidable" captain Dean Furman yesterday. I'm planning to link up with his dad Ronnie, a dentist in London, to brave President Theodorin Obiang's bizarre nation of haves and have-nots when the tournament begins on January 18 through to the final (hopefully for Shakes) on February 8.

Dean himself knows a month in Africa will do him and the other foreign-based players little good. He came on as a sub for Doncaster Rovers, struggling in England's third flight, over the weekend. And he admits: "It does present a problem for the European players but I would do anything for my country. I love playing for Bafana Bafana. When I left Cape Town aged five, I never dreamed I would lead my country.

"I would not swap that experience for ANYTHING. I'm hoping dad will be there to watch. I've got family in Johannesburg and Cape Town who will be rooting for me too."

But so much now appears to depend on tomorrow night's draw in a nation not known for fair play - they were suspended before stepping in as emergency hosts after Morocco's Ebola-phobic withdrawal and have been known to field oil-stained national teams devoid of a single local-born player.

16 teams qualified for AFCON. Seven-time winners Egypt and champions Nigeria are just two of the big absentees, along with Ethiopia, who put Gordon Igesund's Bafana out of the World Cup in our last botched qualification attempt.

Bizarrely, with South Africa seeded in Pot 3 due to our previous failings, it's Pot 2 which contains the really tough teams. Hosts Equatorial Guinea automatically drop in to Pot 1 with Ghana, 2011 champions Zambia and Burkina Faso.

But in the second pot, THREE favourites stand out: Ivory Coast (not the team South Africa beat 2-0 in the Nelson Mandela Challenge on Sunday, the one with Yaya Toure, Wilfried Bony etc etc), Africa's top current outfit Algeria (also known as France Mark Two) and Tunisia (number two in Africa).

Using purely numerical values here are the BEST and WORST case scenarios:

Equatorial Guinea (37), Mali (10), South Africa (11) and Congo (13)

Ghana (5), Algeria (1), South Africa (11) and Senegal (4)

Equatorial Guinea (37)
Ghana (5)
Zambia (15)
Burkina Faso (18)

Pot 2
Ivory Coast (3)
Mali (10)
Tunisia (2)
Algeria (1)

Pot 3
Cape Verde (7)
South Africa (11)
Gabon (17)
DR Congo (12)

Pot 4
Cameroon (8)
Senegal (4)
Guinea (6)
Congo (13)

Still, no matter how it turns out, Mr Mashaba has assured us: "We are not just going there to make up the numbers. If anybody under-estimates South Africa, they will be made to pay for it."

And ultimately, it doesn't matter how the groups shape up. After qualifying top of Group A, South Africa may just be the team to avoid tomorrow night.

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