JOHANNESBURG – It could well be 1998 all over again. And how South African football fans would love for Bafana Bafana to have an Africa Cup of Nations similar to the one from 21 years ago.
Friday’s draw for the biennial, continental showpiece that will be hosted by Egypt in June saw the country’s senior national team being put in a group very similar to that which they were in at Burkina Faso 98.
Except for Morocco, the other two countries that will provide opposition for Stuart Baxter and his team had clashed with the then-Afcon holders, led by Jomo Sono.
The Ivory Coast and Namibia were also in Bafana’s group in 1998, with Angola having been the fourth side.
As low as Bafana are currently ranked, there is reason to be optimistic they can get out of the group and go into the knockout stage. They did, after all, progress back in 1998 with the Elephants and the Warriors providing opposition, didn’t they?
And as improved as Namibia are, our neighbours should not stop us from getting maximum points when we clash.
It still leaves the two continental giants to contend with, the Elephants and Herve Renard’s Atlas Lions.
But do they really have to win both matches? Not necessarily.
Back in 1998, Bafana drew with the Ivory Coast in their second match, having also drawn with Angola in the opener and still progressed, after beating Namibia.
Another draw with the West Africans will be a welcomed result.
That leaves Morocco.
Afcon history favours Bafana when it comes to clashes with the Atlas Lions. At that 1998 tournament, Bafana beat Morocco 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
There was another victory for Bafana at the 2002 tournament in the final match of the group stage that both teams had to win. Carlos Quieroz led the team to a fantastic 3-1 win.
Even in 2004 when Morocco finished runners-up, they still could not beat Bafana - the two countries drawing 1-1 in the group stage. In the 2013 tournament, we beat them 2-0 in a group match in Durban.
Granted, statistics are nothing more than numbers on a piece of paper with little impact on the outcome of matches.
But as they prepare to return to the tournament, Bafana can take comfort in the fact that they have a good record against their opposition.@Tshiliboy