Having touched base in the city of Korhogo, Bafana Bafana carry the hopes of the nation as they aim to open their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations account with a confidence-boosting victory over fancied Mali on Tuesday.
The Group E opener will kick-off at 10pm (SA time) at the Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium. Other teams in the group are Namibia and Tunisia.
On Friday, Bafana arrived safely to much fanfare in Korhogo, in northern Ivory Coast. The city close to Burkina Faso border, is also the cultural capital of the Senufo people whose masked dancers welcomed Bafana Bafana with a spirited traditional dance ceremony at the airport.
For the squad dominated by Mamelodi Sundowns players, the players should have shared information ahead of the trip about the conditions and life in Korhogo after Mamelodi Sundowns were based there during their successful CAF Women’s Champions League campaign as recently as November.
One thing Bafana Bafana players will battle to contend with is the Sahelian weather conditions. In January, maximum temperatures average 36° Celsius.
For the opening match, Bafana coach Hugo Broos will have to rely on the Orlando Pirates striking duo of Zakhele Lepasa and Evidence Makgopa.
The team is missing the experience of talisman Lyle Foster and France-based Lebo Mothiba.
However, the discipline and crisp of the Bafana defence will be equally important, despite Mali’s attack not as strong as it was at the previous Afcon, with one of their spearheads in attack Ibrahima Kone missing out on the competition due to injury.
Mali will therefore be leading the line with the blistering attack that comprises of RB Salzburg striker Nene Dorgeles, Saint Etienne’s Ibrahima Sissoko and Lorient young sensation Sirine Doucoure – with Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Yves Bissouma expected to break up play and feed the attackers.
One of SA’s legends of the 1996 Afcon victory, Mark Williams, emphasised the importance of winning the first match.
“It’s not an easy group, especially when we talk about Mali, they are always difficult. “But for me, what is important is winning the first game. Win that and the next match against Namibia, then definitely we are going into the next round.
“Winning against Mali is a must because it gives the players confidence with three points. Then you get Namibia and once you beat them, you don’t have to worry about Tunisia.”
“Obviously, from there, they are likely to get top teams and then we can see where Bafana will go. That’s going to be their test, but for me, I’m hoping that they go through with Tunisia.
“It would be nice if they end up top [of the group].”