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South Africa hoping to put an end to recent AFCON disappointment

South Africa last won the Africa Cup of Nations back in 1996, when they also hosted the competition, and beat Tunisia 2-0 in the final courtesy of a brace from Mark Williams.

Two years later, in the following tournament they reached the last two again, only to be stopped as Egypt recorded a 2-0 victory over them.

Coach Ephraim Mashaba is targeting another final, and believes his team have what it takes.

“When we started the campaign of the qualifiers, we were only asked to help build the national team that is why you see majority of my side made up of young players,” Mashaba said.

“Now that we have qualified, we don’t want to make up the numbers because we are heading there (Equatorial Guinea) to compete and we are looking forward to getting to the finals.

“We played strong teams in this group, I mean Nigeria, Sudan and Congo. They are not pushovers and having gone unbeaten, it shows my boys are ready for the Africa Cup of Nations,” he concluded.

South Africa are drawn in a pool this year that includes Algeria, Senegal and Ghana, appearing against those teams in that order. Following the brief highs of the late 90s, the country went into the wilderness.

Hosting the World Cup in 2010 helped to put the nation on the footballing map and raised important issues in the country aside from football. They demonstrated quite successfully that any previous political controversy had been put to one side, as a country joined together.

They were also desperately unlucky not to qualify for the knockout stage, following an initial draw against Mexico, who went through on goal difference at their expense, and arguably their best result in recent times – a 2-1 victory over 1998 world champions France.

Star of the tournament for Bafana Bafana, Siphiwe Tshabalala, has not been involved in qualifying, and the 30-year-old plays his football for popular South African club Kaizer Chiefs.

Tshabalala’s club teammate, Bernard Parker, who has 23 international goals in 68 appearances, is also currently out of favour, alongside Spurs-owned centre back Bongani Khumalo and Cardiff City midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi. Ignoring these players with tournament experience may be a mistake, not least because of a really difficult group.

Algeria, Ghana and Senegal will face South Africa in Equatorial Guinea. The fact it is a cliche aside, this really is a ‘Group of Death’, with any two from the four able to make credible cases for reaching the tournament’s knockout phase. What’s encouraging is they went unbeaten in qualifying, so they will make a good account of themselves.

Pound for pound, though, Bafana Bafana’s current crop are not illustrious. Maybe slipping in under the radar will work in their favour but, if they are to defy the odds and get out of this perilous pool, much depends on the small contingent playing abroad.

In the engine room, up-and-coming Twente player Kamohelo Mokotjo joins Doncaster Rovers midfielder Dean Furman as an effective screen for the back four.

Should Mashaba stick with the squad that sealed South Africa’s spot in reaching the AFCON finals, then the burden up front will fall on Ajax attacking midfielder Thulani Serero playing off Bournemouth striker Tokelo Rantie, who top scored in qualifying with four.

The latter should be fit for the finals following a dislocated shoulder. If Rantie fails to return before January 17th, then a recall for Parker or prolific international Katlego Mphela surely beckons.