19 January 2013

Africa: Finally - Africa Nations Cup Kicks Off

Johannesburg — These are clearly desperate times for 2013 Orange Nations Cup hosts South Africa.

Just before the Bafana Bafana try to demonstrate whether or not they can match their country's belief of emulating that 1996 feat that saw them march all the way on home soil, there is a wave of panic that has crept into the host nation, threatening to derail the team's confidence in Africa's prestigious showpiece that rolls off with pomp today.

Apart from South Africa President Jacob Zuma, few South Africans seem to believe in the Bafana Bafana!

Not even the media here, who have fallen out with the team's head coach Gordon Igesund and are projecting humiliation given the team's free fall in the last decade.

Igesund has always had an obsession of keeping is players away from the spotlight. But it took absurd proportions two weeks ago when he imposed a media and fans' blackout on the team ahead of today's explosive opening fixture against Cape Verde.

The idea will of course allow his charges focus on the assignment ahead but it goes without saying that Igesund has set himself up for a major fall with his snappy attitude and paranoid behavior should Bafana fail to progress out of Group A that also includes Angola and Morocco.

He seems riled by the barrage of criticism that he and his side have faced since their dull draw against Algeria last Saturday.

Early this year, Igesund was mandated to make at least the semi-finals of the tournament. But the immediate objective has to a winning start in front of a sell-out crowd at the National Stadium.

South Africa's main problem has been their malaise in front of goal and the home fans proved their fickle nature booing the Bafana, who were abject in their games against Algeria and Norway.

What some of the home fans have desperately decided is draw confidence from their 6-1 win registered on Tuesday during their practice session against local club Moroka Swallows.

Cape Verde have significantly improved since their 2-1 defeat to South Africa in Praia in 2005. They almost made it to last year's tournament, but brought down Cameroon in a play-off, as they qualified for South Africa 2013.

Perhaps Igesund can draw encouragement from Jomo Sono's success story of 1998 when he was the most unpopular man ahead of the tournament in Burkina Faso.

"There was no single supporter at the airport to bid the team farewell as we departed for Burkina Faso. We could only see a cat running around. It bid us farewell," Sono recalled on Friday.

But the Bafana were later hailed as heroes having reached the final and lost to Egypt.

Police face a very challenging day

Off the pitch, Police will yet again confront one of their most challenging days ever since the 2010 World Cup.

With the swell of happiness and expectation; with the surge of joy and hope in the build-up to the tournament, precautionary measures have been a must.

Emergency services are bracing themselves for one of the busiest days of the year today as South African and Cape Verde fans rush to get in front of television screens before indulging in wild celebrations or bitter drink-fuelled mourning.

Police and road safety experts are doing everything possible within their means to curb crime, motorists expected to drive recklessly and aggressively as they race home, to the pubs or into the National Stadium for the grand opening ceremony.

It is has not been confirmed if ailing statesman Nelson Mandela will attend the opening ceremony or at least be heard in a recorded speech.

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