Where: Ivory Coast (Six Venues In Five Cities)
- South Africa Vs. Mali – Tuesday, Jan 16 (Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium, Korhogo)
- South Africa Vs. Namibia – Sunday, Jab 21 (Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium, Korhogo)
- South Africa Vs. Tunisia – Wednesday, Jan 24 (Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium, Korhogo)
It has been almost three decades in the AFCON wilderness for South Africa since the Bafana Bafana lifted the trophy on home soil in 1996. There have been 13 AFCON winners crowned since two Mark Williams goals at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg proved to be the difference in a 2-0 win over Tunisia in front of 80,000 screaming home fans.
There have been eight winning countries since that date and there have been 11 teams that have made the final since South Africa was last at that stage when they were defending champions in 1998. What was initially a slow descent into mediocrity has become something that feels much more terminal, with Burkina Faso and Zambia having more recent success than a country with more history and resources in the game.
Morocco’s stunning run to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 has shown that football in Africa is improving on a broad level. Nine African teams are guaranteed to make it to the 2026 World Cup in North America – with another possible through inter-continental playoffs – so what does South Africa have to do in AFCON 2024 to get out of the group, make a run at the trophy, and reignite national pride in a sport that has fallen way down the pecking order in the opinion of the general South African public.
Just making it to the tournament is an improvement. The Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for the 2022 event in Cameroon, another dagger driven into the psyche of South Africa’s soccer-loving public.
In fairness, the federation recruited a coach who is a proven winner, with Belgian Hugo Broos drafted in to stop the bleeding. Broos has previously won the 2017 AFCON in Gabon with Cameroon, and the general feeling is that he is a coach who will get the most out of his players in a tournament setting.
It is a worry that both Lyle Foster and Lebo Mothiba will miss the comp, as their goals will be missed.
It is hard to set expectations high when South Africa is ranked 66th in the FIFA rankings. Their first game in Group E is against Mali (ranked 51st), before games against Namibia (ranked 115th) and Tunisia (ranked 28th).
Two teams qualify automatically from each group, and the four third-placed teams with the best record will also progress to the Round of 16. With so many of the 24 teams in the group stages making the knockout rounds, that should be the lowest expectation for the Bafana Bafana.
The ideal situation would see South Africa beating a Mali team at a similar skill level before thumping a Namibia squad they should be much better than. This would then leave a match against group favorites Tunisia with the Bafana Bafana knowing that knockout qualification is already assured.
National pride is on the line here, and a run to the quarter-finals – or even the semi-finals – would get people talking soccer again in a country currently dominated on the sporting stage by the success of the Springboks. Broos has a way of managing that isn’t for everyone – it is only a matter of time before he falls out completely with the SAFA – but until that point, he has a swagger and winning attitude that can push this team to a deeper run than most people expect at AFCON 2024.