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Bafana Bafana players applaud during a visit by South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (not pictured) during their training session on January 15. Host South Africa opens the tournament against Cape Verde.
Bafana Bafana players applaud during a visit by South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (not pictured) during their training session on January 15. Host South Africa opens the tournament against Cape Verde.

African Cup of Nations: Support can steady the ship

South Africa is hoping their fans turn out as the host team gets the tournament started against Cape Verde.

JOHANNESBURG // Support from the home fans could prove vital if South Africa are to win the African Cup of Nations for the first time since 1996, the Bafana Bafana captain Bongani Khumalo says.

The 2013 hosts begin their campaign today against Cape Verde in Soweto’s Soccer City, the 90,000-seat stadium that played host to the final of the 2010 World Cup won by Spain.

South Africa have not won an African Cup match since 2004 and captured their lone championship on home soil 17 years ago, and Khumalo says the idea of playing in front of their compatriots can again inspire greatness in a team that has conspicuously struggled in warm-up games.

“The atmosphere South African supporters always create is world class and absolutely unbelievable and it can inspire every player to go beyond his potential, so coming to this game with 90,000 fans is very special,” Khumalo said.

“You never know when you will have this opportunity again and we want to make the most of it,” the centre-back said.

Gordon Igesund, the South Africa coach, received an eve-of-match boost with the return from injury of the playmaker Kagisho Dikgacoi.

The Crystal Palace midfielder is back after missing two days of training this week.

Igesund, who excelled in club management, winning a record four South African league titles with different teams, echoed his captain’s sentiments on being at home.

“Playing for your country in front of a full house in the opening game of the Nations Cup is enough to push the players to deliver,” he said.

“Everybody is excited about that and they are jumping out of their skin to get on to the field. I believe they are ready for this.”

Igesund has been told by his employers, the South African Football Association, that he could face dismissal if his team do not progress to at least the semi-finals.

Since Igesund took over from Pitso Mosimane last year, South Africa have played eight friendlies, winning only three. They failed to score in five matches.

Their final warm-up match was against fellow qualifiers Algeria last weekend and they barely created a chance against the 1990 champions in a drab 0-0 draw.

Igesund and the Bafana Bafana must do without Steven Pienaar, the Everton midfielder, who has chosen to stay in England rather than miss several matches with his club side.

Cape Verde are making their African Cup debut. They shocked Cameroon, one of the continent’s leading football nations, to reach the 16-team tournament.

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