SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 15, General view during the meeting between Bafana Bafana players and President Jacob Zuma (State President of the Republic of South Africa) at Orlando Stadium on January 15, 2013 in Soweto, South Africa Photo by Duif du Toit / Gallo Images


IGNORE critics, relax and focus on the game.

That was President Jacob Zuma’s message to Bafana Bafana players yesterday, a few days before the start of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament.

“Others (critics) have never touched a football. They don’t know how it feels to be inside here (the pitch),” he said.

Zuma assured the players that the country was behind them, despite all the discouraging words thrown at them by critics. “They must not listen to all these critics,” he said, adding he was more confident in the team than he had ever been. “They must play what they know. If you know soccer, you have to see whether all departments are working in the field.”

Zuma said the country had done well in preparing for the tournament, despite not having enough planning time as it was initially meant to be held in Libya.

Zuma, who was accompanied by Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and Gauteng Sports MEC Lebogang Maile, spoke to journalists at Orlando Stadium in Soweto.

Before addressing the media, Zuma spoke to the team privately ahead of the tournament, which kicks off with a game between Bafana and Cape Verde at the National Stadium (FNB Stadium) on Saturday.

Asked if there was any reward for the team, Zuma said, while touching the trophy: “We have talked about it. When we succeed, we’ll talk about it. Touching it means we should be there at the final.”

Tickets for Saturday’s opening have been sold out – five days ahead of the match. By late on Monday, more than 80 000 tickets had been snatched up for the crunch fixture at the 94 700-seater stadium. The surge in sales for the opening fixture has prompted the Afcon local organising committee to increase the number of tickets available to the public.

l Football Friday: show your support for Bafana by wearing your football or SA supporters’ jersey on Friday.