South Africa/Cape Verde: Nervous Bafana Prepare to Tackle Hard-Running Islanders
South Africa will have a sell-out crowd at the cavernous Soccer City to drive them on when they open proceedings at the African Nations Cup finals but also go into the game heaving under a heavy burden of expectation.
A nervous home side has cloistered themselves away over the final week of preparations amid a tense atmosphere in their own camp and healthy scepticism among the supporting public.
But all are aware that sentiment could turn either positive and negative within the blink of an eye, or as Bafana Bafana would prefer, the swing of a boot.
A victory over the Cape Verde islands in the opening game of the tournament would turn a negative sentiment into a euphoric celebration, even if it is only the start of the competition.
Fans have been starved of success of late and can be expected to explode in excitement if the host nation ends its famine in front of goal.
Bafana have managed just seven goals in their eight matches under coach Gordon Igesund, who says he is working furiously to put that right.
“There has been a lot of work that has gone into trying to capitalise on our chances and also to make it easier for ourselves in front of goal,” he said.
Cape Verde will provide a tricky opponent, says the South Africa coach.
“They are a hard-running side who are working well to press down the opponent. We are going to have to stretch them wide but we have a big pitch at Soccer City to work on.”
“We will show them the necessary respect because there are no more little teams in these competitions anymore,” Igesund added.
It is a fairytale occasion for one of the smallest countries in Africa; indeed the smallest to compete at the finals.
They have little to lose, with no expectation on their shoulders, even after eliminating Cameroon in the qualifiers.
South Africa will hope the 87,000-strong crowd intimates them but the Cape Verdians have proven a belligerent bunch in the build-up to arguably their finest footballing hour. They have a side of journeyman footballers enjoying the biggest moment of their careers.
Bafana beat them both home and away when the two countries met in World Cup qualification fixtures ahead of the 2006 finals, but much has changed for the island archipelago since.
A reliance now on more players from their diaspora around the world has allowed them to build a more formidable, and competitive, team. They are ranked higher than South Africa in the latest FIFA standings.
Their most experienced defender, Ricardo has not elected to play at the tournament, preferring club over country. But if they can hold out at the back against an expected onslaught from South Africa, then the Cape Verdians could continue their run of giant-killing surprises.
Neither side have had any injury concerns on the eve of the match and ample time to get ready for a game played at altitude.