18 January 2013
The support of South African fans will be crucial to the success of the national team’s 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) campaign, says Bafana Bafana captain Bongani Khumalo.
South Africa kicks off the 29th edition of the tournament against Cape Verde at the National Stadium in Nasrec, just outside Soweto, at 6pm on Saturday.
There was good news for the hosts when midfield kingpin Kagisho Dikgacoi returned to full training on Thursday after missing out on training on Monday and Tuesday. He joined the rest of his teammates on Wednesday and finished Thursday’s session without any complaints.
‘With you every minute of the game’
Captain Khumalo talked up the advantage of home support at a packed media conference in Johannesburg on Thursday, saying: “That is the advantage you have when you are playing on home soil. You have the fans right there with you every minute of the game, and on behalf of the team I would like to thank all the supporters who have come out to support us, we appreciate the faith and the confidence they have shown in us.
“The atmosphere South African supporters always create is world class and absolutely unbelievable,” Khumalo said, “and it can inspire every player to go beyond his potential, so coming to this game on Saturday with 90 000 fans is very special.
“You never know when you will have this opportunity again, and we want to make the most of it.”
Coach Gordon Igesund said that playing in the continent’s biggest football tournament was motivation enough for his players to do well.
‘Everybody is excited’
“Playing for your country in front of a full house in the opening game of Afcon is enough to push the players to deliver. Everybody is excited about that, and they are jumping out of their skin to get onto the field – I believe they are ready for this.”
As for pressure, the Bafana Bafana mentor said it was part of the game. “There is pressure for every single coach in this tournament. If there is a coach who tells you he is not under pressure, he is not telling the truth.
“But it is the kind of pressure that we can handle, the type that is exciting, the type of pressure that you are hosting the tournament and you want to do well and make the country proud,” Igesund said.
On a positive note, Bafana Bafana moved up two places in the latest Fifa World Rankings. However, their ranking of 85th in the world and 22nd in Africa underlines just how much they will need to lift their game to excel in the Africa Cup of Nations.
South Africa is in Group A and, apart from Cape Verde, will also face Angola and Morocco. The match against Angola takes place at the Moses Mahbida Stadium in Durban on 23 January. The stadium will also host the game against Morocco on 27 January.
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