Having been held to a goalless draw by CAF Africa Cup of Nations rookies Cape Verde in their opening Group A game, hosts South Africa are under pressure to deliver the goods against Angola in their second match. Despite the pressure, FIFA.com looks at some of the reasons why Bafana Bafana are full of hope ahead of the game.
First, the team benefited by the result of the second group game on Saturday, which saw the Angolans play to a 0-0 against Morocco, a result that leaves all teams in the group equal on goals and points. Second for the AFCON hosts is that they will be based in the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban for the rest of the group stage, and it is a city that has been good to the team.
South Africa's first international after re-admittance to international football was a friendly against Cameroon's Indomitable Lions in the Kings Park Stadium in Durban in July 1992, and a Doctor Khumalo penalty eight minutes before the end gave Bafana a winning start. Since then, the team has played a further ten games in the south coastal city, winning five and drawing four. The only defeat came in 2003 against a David Beckham-led England with goals from Gareth Southgate and Emile Heskey giving the visitors a 2-1 victory.
Getting into the minds of the players
So, some home comfort should help Bafana Bafana, but their coach, Gordon Igesund, admitted that he was very disappointed with his side's performance in the goalless draw against Cape Verde. "But we now have a chance to rectify what we did not achieve in the first game. We want to be in a position to have our fate in our own hands and the result of the second game can ensure that that is the case."
The coach, who has won the South African league championship a record-breaking four times with four different clubs, said that after the draw against the Blue Sharks he tried to get into the minds of the players. "I could see that it was a very nervous performance, the players were not themselves. But having said that, it makes no sense to dwell too much on the past. The game is finished and we now have to look forward to our next match."
Igesund echoed the feeling of the team in admitting they were happy to be in Durban. "There has been a lot of pressure on the players and some of this pressure should not be there. It has been created. I believe that in Durban there will be less pressure on the players, but of course the players also have to do their bit. We can't have a performance like that again."
He said that he fully understood that the fans were disappointed with Bafana Bafana's performance against Cape Verde. "Our fans are very passionate about the game and about the team, and it is understandable that they were just as disappointed as we were. I am confident though that they will get behind the team in the Moses Mabhida Stadium. I am very positive ahead of the game. I believe that we will qualify for the next round and we could then quite easily go all the way to the final, which we could also win. I am not saying we will win the competition, but we can win the competition."
Experience and expectation
Igesund said that the players were similarly confident. "In fact, when SAFA approached the players to negotiate the bonus payments for the first round, they said that they do not want individual match bonuses because a victory or a draw would mean nothing unless the side progressed. Never before have the players by themselves turned down an offer to receive money. I think this shows their commitment, but also the belief in themselves.
"But football is a funny game. Strange things can happen. If we can get the momentum going we can do anything. Anything is possible. It is not always the best team that wins. Sometimes a team that wants to win the most wins. I think previous tournaments have shown that underdogs can also win, it is not only the favourites."
Similarly, the president of the South African Football Association, Kirsten Nematandani, urged the players to regroup and focus on the task ahead. "You have to deliver on behalf of the nation," he said. "There will be a sold-out stadium and you need to be at your best. We have achieved good results in Durban so far and we have to continue along this path. We have a squad with a lot of experience and the experienced players have to give guidance to the younger players."
It is a reminder for Igesund and his squad that there is plenty to play for as well as plenty of expectation. Not only are they trying to emulate the 1996 team that won the competition the last time it was staged in South Africa, but they know that the winner of the event will also qualify for this year's FIFA Confederations Cup, which will be held in Brazil and is eagerly awaiting its final participant in the eight-team field.