Deja vu all over again for Bafana Bafana in Egypt
Bafana Bafana have what looks on paper a tough draw at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt‚ but in truth will come up against three sides against who they have a dominant record – and three teams they also met on their road to the decider in 1998!
Coach Stuart Baxter’s team will start their campaign against Ivory Coast on June 24‚ before a meeting with Namibia four days later‚ and a final Group D game versus Morocco on July 1.
Morocco and Ivory Coast provide the most obvious danger‚ and they are teams packed with talent‚ but there is also nothing to suggest that this Bafana side cannot compete with them on an equal footing.
There will perhaps be some déjà vu from 21 years ago‚ when Bafana tackled all three teams in the finals in Burkina Faso and came out of the matches unscathed.
After a 1-1 draw with Ivory Coast‚ where Helman Mkhalele netted an early penalty‚ Benni McCarthy famously scored four goals in 13 minutes to down Namibia 4-1.
That remains the only hat-trick by a Bafana player‚ but there will be a few who will feel there is the chance to add another against the Brave Warriors this year.
Bafana advanced to the quarterfinals that year and then met Morocco‚ with McCarthy and David Nyathi on target in a 2-1 win.
South Africa would go on to make the final in defence of their title‚ but lost 2-0 to‚ perhaps ironically‚ 2019 hosts Egypt.
Morocco are coached by Frenchman Herve Renard‚ the most successful coach on the continent in the past decade or so.
He led unfancied Zambia to the title in 2012‚ and then finally broke the curse of Ivory Coast to claim the trophy with them in 2015.
The North Africans have been on an excellent run in the last three years‚ losing just three times in 28 matches‚ with two of those defeats at the World Cup finals in Russia.
The other was last time out in a friendly against Argentina in March. Their last loss to African opposition was in June 2017 away in Cameroon.
Hakim Ziyech from Ajax Amsterdam headlines their side‚ but Younès Belhanda‚ Mbark Boussoufa‚ Achraf Hakimi and Medhi Benatia are also household names.
Bafana have yet to lose in five previous meetings against the Moroccans‚ and are something of a bogey side for the team.
Ivory Coast are not the force of old since the retirement of a number of their stalwarts‚ the likes of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure‚ but they still have some form players that will be a danger to Bafana.
One of these is Lille striker Nicolas Pépé‚ who took his tally of Ligue 1 goals to 19 this season in his side’s 5-1 hammering of Paris St Germain.
Manchester United defender Eric Bailly‚ Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha‚ Toulouse winger Max Gradel and AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessié are other top names.
Bafana have met the Ivory Coast on six previous occasions and have yet to be on the losing side.
Namibia will have little mystery for Bafana‚ having watched basically their full-strength side compete in the COSAFA Cup over the last few years.
Many of the players are also either past or present Premier Soccer League players‚ with BidVest Wits winger Deon Hotto and Highlands Park playmaker Peter Shalulile obvious dangermen.
Egypt-based striker Benson Shilongo‚ formerly with Platinum Stars‚ will also be one to watch.
Coach Ricardo Mannetti‚ who has been in charge of the side for six years‚ was part of the Namibia squad that played Bafana in 1998.
Also a PSL stalwart with Santos‚ he will work out a plan to counter the Bafana threat.