SA have tough Nations Cup opening clash against Algeria.
South Africa begin their African Nations Cup Group C campaign with a meeting against top-ranked Algeria on Monday, hoping to extend a run of 12 matches without defeat. Their latest win, a 3-0 victory over Mali on Wednesday, will provide a boost in confidence for a squad that is among the least experienced ever for the country at a continental finals.
The squad of 23 players has a total of 393 caps between them, an average of 17 per player.
That number is dominated by Bernard Parker with 70 caps, the most experienced player in the squad ahead of next best Reneilwe Letsholonyane (52 caps), while the least, in terms of caps, is Ayanda Gcaba, who made his second appearance for the side against Mali.
The least experienced position is goalkeeper, with the trio having just 10 caps — Darren Keet has four, Brilliant Khuzwayo and Jackson Mabokgwane three each.
The team have scored 48 international goals between them, a number again dominated by Parker’s 23 strikes, with the player with the best scoring ratio being Sibusiso Vilakazi, who has netted four in 11 international appearances, including two in his last two games.
But if you narrow that down to goals in Nations Cup finals tournaments, the squad has scored just one – Tokelo Rantie’s strike in the quarterfinals against Mali in 2013.
In all, 19 players have got on the scoresheet at Nations Cup finals for Bafana, with the top three being Benni McCarthy (seven goals – all in 1998), Shaun Bartlett (six) and Siyabonga Nomvethe (five).
Their good recent form aside, Bafana’s record against their three Group C opponents – Algeria, Senegal and Ghana – does give some cause for hope.
They have had two previous meetings with Algeria at the Nations Cup, winning a quarterfinal 2-1 on their way to lifting the trophy on home soil in 1996.
The teams met again in the pool stages in 2000 when Bartlett scored after just two minutes as they played to a 1-1 draw and Bafana qualified for the quarterfinals. They went on to finish third that year.
South Africa’s Nations Cup finals history with Ghana is very similar: the sides met in 1996 and 2000 as well, but also clashed in the 2002 finals.
Bafana famously won their 1996 semifinal against the fancied Black Stars in emphatic fashion, a 3-0 rout.
Nomvethe netted the only goal as Bafana then defeated Ghana 1-0 in the 2000 quarterfinals and they came up against the Black Stars again two years later, this time in the group stages, and played to a 0-0 draw which was enough in the end to see the side through to the knockout stages.
The tournament in Equatorial Guinea will be just the second time Bafana have played Senegal at the continental showpiece, with the first coming in Ghana in 2008.
Elrio van Heerden, who was in the form of his life, netted for Bafana, who were pegged back to draw 1-1 and bow out of the competition at the first hurdle.
Overall, Bafana have played 35 matches at the Nations Cup finals since 1996, winning 14, drawing 12 and losing nine.
They have outscored their opponents 42-35, with their biggest victory a 4-1 thrashing of Namibia in 1998, when McCarthy netted all the goals in an amazing 13-minute spell.
But they also took their heaviest defeat when they received a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Nigeria in 2004.