Johannesburg — TEAMS from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region will have the odds heavily stacked against them at the 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt on Friday.
Save for wins by Democratic Republic of Congo (1968 and 1974 as Congo Kinshasa and as Zaire), South Africa in 1996 and Zambia in 2012, teams from the regional bloc have long been the whipping boys of Africa's premier football competition.
The opening encounter at the Cairo International Stadium itself rates like a mismatch.
The hosts, the most successful nation in the cup's history with a record of seven wins, will play Zimbabwe, who have failed in each of their last three appearances to go beyond the first round.
DRC and Uganda are the other sides in Group A.
Ahead of the tournament kicking off at the 75 000-seater stadium, African football analyst, Christopher Dube, noted Zimbabwe would face a daunting task in the so-called Group of Death.
"Best prepared (team in the region) is Zimbabwe but they have the toughest group," Dube said in an interview with CAJ News.
The Warriors utilized the recent Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) Cup to prepare for AFCON.
They finished third.
Dube also rated Angola's chances as the Palancas Negras make a return to the tournament after a nine-year absence.
"Angola has the talent to at least go to the quarter-finals," he said.
The Angolans will contend with Mali, Mauritania and Tunisia in Group C.
Namibia, knocked out at the first round in their two previous appearances (1998 and 2008), face a hostile return to the tournament with Ivory Coast, Morocco and South Africa lying in wait in Group D.
"Namibia will play out of their skins to get out of their group," Dube said.
"... which leaves South Africa as the only team that can actually go further. They are the least prepared but placed to advance and go furthest," the analyst added.
There is negative sentiment around Bafana Bafana among local fans given their spectacular decline since their maiden win, as hosts, two years after independence.
Bafana coach, Stuart Baxter, urged his side to play with confidence and not show "exaggerated respect" for opponents.
"If we can win a few games, then you never know what happens next," he said.
Madagascar, making their first appearance, and Tanzania, who are making their first appearance since their exit in the first round in 1980, are the other SADC teams in Egypt.
The first-time qualifiers have Burundi, Guinea and Nigeria in Group B. Tanzania are pooled in Group alongside Algeria, Kenya and Senegal.