JOHANNESBURG – Former Bafana Bafana player Matthew Booth has backed Bafana to have a successful Africa Cup of Nations campaign.
After missing the last tournament in 2017, the South Africans return to the global showpiece eager to make up for lost time.
However, that’s easier said than done. Stuart Baxter’s men are in Group D, in the newly launched 24-team tournament, alongside Ivory Coast, Morocco and Namibia, who will likely wear the underdogs’ cap in the group stage.
Knowing what’s at stake, Baxter assembled a strong provisional squad for the tournament, while his biggest problem is the absence of first-choice goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune to an injury.
“I think the Bafana team have got backbone and character now,” said Booth who was speaking at the national finals of the Castle Africa 5s on Saturday in Centurion.
“I quite like it because it’s something that we’ve been lacking in the past. I think it also comes to the fact that (Mamelodi) Sundowns and Orlando (Pirates) players have played in the tournament a number of times now. And they’ve had a fairly good (domestic) campaign and that bodes well for Bafana.”
However, with Baxter yet to trim his squad to the final 23 who will be South Africa’s flag bearers in Egypt, Booth admits that he was surprised to see the inclusion of overseas-based duo Nikola Tavares and Joel Untersee, who were not part of the qualifiers.
“Throwing them in the deep end without having played in the qualifiers is a little bit of a risk,” Booth said. “But other than that I am happy, although I feel a little bit sorry for Vincent Pule (who didn’t even make the provisional squad).”
Despite the patriotic gesture by Booth, the gigantic former Sundowns defender has put his money on Morocco to win the tournament.
It’s not that the South Africans lack the ability to claim African glory for the first time in almost 23 years, but they have previously come short against the Moroccans, who have a number of players plying their trade in top-flight leagues in Europe.
For instance, Hakim Ziyech had a fantastic season with Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam - inspiring the team to the Eredivisie crown, while they crashed out in the semi-finals of the Uefa Champions League. And after all, the only coach who boasts an impressive CV that tips him as a favourite to win the tournament is Herve Renard.
He is, after all, the current Caf Coach of the Year, and he’s won the tournament with two teams (Zambia and Ivory Coast) between 2012 and 2015.
“If you look at their players who are based in Europe, a lot of them are in form,” Booth said.
“I don’t know the members of the squad, but they’ve also had a good run on the continent. I’ve just got a gut feeling that they are going to do well.”@Mihlalibaleka