CAF Africa Cup of Nations-winning captain Neil Tovey believes South Africa can use home advantage to conquer the continent again in the 2013 tournament.
Bafana Bafana (The Boys) are ranked only 19 in Africa and owe a place among the top seeds to being hosts of the three-week championship that kicks off in January at the 90,000-seat Soccer City stadium in Soweto.
But the man who led his country to glory when they hosted the 1996 tournament says getting off to a good start is much more important than where a team is ranked.
Debutants South Africa walloped Cameroon 3-0 in the tournament opener 16 years ago and Tovey said it was a huge boost for a side that went on to defeat Tunisia 2-0 in a final watched by then-president Nelson Mandela.
"Outplaying Cameroon set the tone for the tournament and gave us breathing space because we were in a difficult group with Angola and Egypt," he told AFP ahead of the first round draw Wednesday in Indian Ocean city Durban.
"Getting those three points in the opening match meant we had an escape route if things went wrong in another group game. Luckily, we also beat the Angolans and qualified before losing to the Egyptians.
"Playing at home can be a tremendous advantage and everyone rallied behind the team 16 years ago, driving us on to some great victories and the trophy," recalled Tovey. "South Africa could go all the way again."
He rates the other three top seeds - defending champions Zambia, 2013 title favourites Côte d'Ivoire and four-time winners Ghana - and second seeds Nigeria among the favourites with Angola and Morocco dark horses.
Tovey raves about Nigeria, a country that has finished among the top three 13 times in 16 Cup of Nations appearances, but failed to even make the finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea this year.
"They possess an abundance of talent and my good friend Stephen Keshi is settling down nicely as coach and getting them well organised. He has so many good footballers to choose from.
"However, Nigerian teams sometimes shoot themselves in the foot. They can be their own worst enemies. I do not see that occuring under Keshi, but they must learn from previous mistakes."
Nigeria have been a hoodoo team for South Africa, whose recently appointed coach Gordon Igesund has confessed he is desperate to dodge the Super Eagles in the mini-league first stage.
Keshi is another former Africa Cup-winning skipper, raising the trophy in 1994 after a come-from-behind 2-1 triumph over Zambia, and exudes confidence ahead of the draw at the Durban International Convention Centre.
"I have said it to a lot of people and will say it again that I am not afraid of any team. You do not win a championship by being afraid of your opponents and that is the spirit I am taking to the draw.
"Let them bring on any team and the 'Super Eagles' will give their all. We have a team that all opponents - not just those in Africa - should be afraid of," Keshi told the Nigerian media.
The 2013 line-up includes 10 Africa Cup-winning nations in Zambia, Algeria, Congo DR, Ethiopia, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia.
Mali have been runners-up, Burkina Faso semi-finalists, Angola quarter-finalists, Niger and Togo have never gone beyond the first round, and Cape Verde Islands are competing for the first time.
Cape Verde eliminated four-time champions Cameroon 3-2 overall and record seven-time winners Egypt are other notable absentees from the 2013 Cup of Nations, falling in the first round to Central African Republic.
The reason for Cup of Nations tournaments in consecutive years is CAF is switching to uneven-number years for the tournament for the first time since 1965 to avoid every second edition being played the same year as a FIFA World Cup™.