South Africa's Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula addresses members of the country's Olympic team during an event at the South Africa House in central London, ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Johannesburg - Sports minister Fikile Mbalula believes nothing should stop Bafana Bafana from winning next year’s African Nations Cup on home soil.

Speaking to The Star after the launch of this year’s SA Sports Awards on Monday evening, Mbalula urged the national side - who last qualified for the Nations Cup finals in 2008 - not to “embarrass” the nation when this country hosts the continental championships from January 19 to February 10.

“I would say we should avoid embarrassment. But there’s nothing stopping us from aiming even higher. We should always strive for excellence,” Mbalula said.

He said Bafana should use neighbours and this year’s Nations Cup champions Zambia as an inspiration to upset the odds.

“Here’s a team like Zambia, with no record, no superstars, no status in terms of their players in big European leagues, their team died (in a plane crash in 1993) in Gabon - yet they managed to succeed. Most of their players are based in African countries like the DR Congo, some are here in SA, but they brought back the Nations Cup trophy. If they achieved something so momentous, what stops us from doing it in our own backyard? We have to restore the pride of this nation.”

Bafana did win the Nations Cup when they first hosted it - in 1996 - but have endured a free fall since. They last won a match at a Nations Cup finals in 2004, and have not gone out of the group phase since 2002, making Mbalula’s expectation of glory next year almost unrealistic. The SA Football Association have set new coach Gordon Igesund, who is currently in Brazil with the team ahead of their first match under him on Friday, a semi-final target next year or risk losing his job.

Mbalula welcomed the hiring of Igesund, but pleaded with South Africans to “give him space” to implement his philosophy.

“I have carefully listened to Gordon. He has said that the national team is not a training ground. He sounds like he’s got the right model which, we need to follow because frankly, our teams have experienced a lot of mediocrity. If Gordon gets the basics right, we will surprise at lot of people in the Nations Cup. “We just need to allow him to do his job.”

The Star