What a way for South Africa to kick-start their 2019 AFCON campaign, taking on 2015 winners, Ivory Coast. It’s one of two so-called tough games for Bafana Bafana in what is considered to be the group of death alongside Morocco and Namibia.
A win here for either side will boost their chances of qualifying while a stalemate might not be the worst result after it was announced that four third-best teams will advance to the Round of 16.
AFCON 2019 | Group D | Monday 24 June | Al-Salam Stadium | 16:30
To Win (90 Mins)
Ivory Coast 23/20
South Africa 26/10
After winning the Nations Cup in 2015, Ivory Coast seemed to have had a drastic dip in their performances, getting knocked out in the group stages of the 2017 AFCON, while the Elephants also failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
It’s clear that Ivory Coast just needed to readjust and rebuild from that aging, yet successful squad, with plenty of young talent coming through the ranks for the two-time African champions. Nicolas Pepe stands out as the hottest property for Ivory Coast with the 24-year-old Lille winger attracting interest from Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, to name a few clubs.
On the opposite flank, Wilfried Zaha has proven to be just as lethal. The Crystal Palace winger has the ability to beat past the best of defenders, and given the opportunity, he can certainly cause the South Africans havoc down the wing.
In the engine room, Fulham’s Jean-Michael Seri and AC Milan’s Franck Kessie are the Ivoirians’ main conductors, while Tottenham’s Serge Aurier and Wydad Casablanca’s Cheick Comara provide that extra bit of steel in the Elephants’ backline.
This is the perfect test for Bafana Bafana to see how far they really are in terms of competing against Africa’s biggest giants. For years, South Africa have usually done well against the stronger sides they’ve come up against, struggling to beat the lesser teams on the continent.
They’ve been plagued by injuries in key areas, with Itumeleng Khune not fit enough after missing most of the season with Kaizer Chiefs, while Keagan Dolly has also been ruled out with a groin injury. Unsurprisingly, Stuart Baxter still has plenty of star players to call upon, with Ronwen Williams or Darren Keet expected to start in goal, while the Englishman has a plethora of options to choose from to play out wide.
Baxter is likely to stick with his cautious approach, being the underdog in this game, although playing on the counter-attack could benefit the South Africans. Percy Tau, who claimed the Proximus League Player of the Season award in Belgium, is expected to partner Lebo Mothiba, who banged in 11 goals in what was a successful season with Strasbourg, helping his team win the Coupe de la Ligue.
Together, the Ivoirians will have something to fear as both forwards can spark a moment of magic out of nowhere as Bafana Bafana push for qualification into the next round.
Verdict: Draw (9/4)
As much as Baxter has come under massive criticism, one thing he has mastered is the ability to not get beaten. The fact that Bafana Bafana’s last competitive defeat under Baxter came in 2017 is evident to that statement. The Under 2.5 Goals market is certainly one to look at, at 6/10, but for more value, take these sides to cancel each other out at 9/4.