Algeria vs South Africa | Monday 19 January | Mongomo | 21:00
Shakes Mashaba’s exciting Bafana Bafana team will be looking to start the tournament on the right foot and continue with their winning momentum. However, their assignment won’t be straightforward as they come up against the number one ranked nation in Africa who have continued to impress since their excellent 2014 World Cup showing where they lost to eventual champions Germany in extra-time of the Round of 16.
To Win (90mins)
South Africa 11/4
Algeria made short work of qualifying for the AFCON with five consecutive wins and one defeat against Mali to top their qualifying group by some distance. Christian Gourcuff has decided not to change a winning formula with the majority of the squad remaining the same from the World Cup, but has put his own little signature on the team. Sporting Lisbon’s Islam Slimani is certain to provide a goal threat along with his strike partner, El Arbi Soudani, with both scoring 24 goals for their country between them. Yacine Brahimi is the man that makes Algeria tick. Recent winner of the BBC African Player of the Year award, Brahimi has been a key player for Gourcuff’s team and scored three goals during the qualifiers.
South Africa head into the 2015 AFCON with a new-found sense of optimism after going undefeated in the qualifying campaign. Their unbeaten record since Mashaba took charge in August stands at five wins and four draws. Bafana have shown a lot of improvement since missing out on last year’s World Cup and were responsible for eliminating Nations Cup holders Nigeria in the qualifiers. Mashaba has got Bafana playing an exciting, flexible style of football, adept at pressing high up on the pitch while also able to sit deep if need be and catch teams on the counter with ruthless efficiency. They work extremely hard and have a boundless energy which is capable of overwhelming opponents.
Shakes has brought in hungry players who have the determination to succeed, not sticking with prestigious players who had let the country down previously. You simply have to look at his decision to bring in the young Rivaldo Coetzee to see that this was a man who chose his squad based on merit and not reputation. Shakes has got a fantastic balance in the squad both offensively and defensively. Mashaba could not have asked for a better partnership of Andile Jali and Dean Furman while striker Tokelo Rantie has been a man with confidence during Mashaba’s tenure. Bafana will be without the Kaizer Chiefs pair of Eric Mathoho and Reneilwe Letsholonyane due to suspension.
VERDICT: Double Chance, South Africa WIN/DRAW 13/20
Bafana have met Algeria three times in the past, winning once and drawing twice. Mashaba’s men are beaming with confidence and the fact that the pressure will be on the Fennec Foxes to win could work in their favour. Algeria looked vulnerable in their recent 2-0 defeat to Mali, followed by their 1-1 draw with Tunisia last weekend. Bafana are the in-form team at the moment and I can’t see them losing. Back South Africa on the win/draw at 13/20.