South Africa had some anxious moments when they were faced with the possibility of drawing Nigeria in their group but in the end got away with a pool that gives them a chance to progress to the knockout phase.
Nigeria or Angola were the only sides left in the draw when South Africa’s group was decided but instead of the Super Eagles, Bafana Bafana will take on Palancas Negras.
They had already drawn a tough opponent in Morocco and a tricky test in their opening game against the tiny Cape Verde Islands.
Bafana play the Tubaroes Azul (blue sharks) at Soccer City on January 19 in a match that offers them the opportunity to create some momentum for the three-week tournament or provide a potential banana skin.
Gordon Igesund looked relieved to have avoided the combination of both Morocco and Nigeria, which would have put a whole different slant on their chances. “It’s a fair draw,” said the coach, who had earlier insisted that his side would need to beat whoever was placed in front of them if they are to emulate the success of the 1996 team, when South Africa previously hosted the tournament.
“It’s a great priviledge for us to play in front of 80 000 people at Soccer City and two other magnificent stadiums,” said Lucio Antunes, coach of the Cape Verdean side who upset Cameroon in the qualifiers earlier this month.
Cape Verde were drawn out of the hat by South Africa president Jacob Zuma, called onto the stage at the draw ceremony in Durban to choose the side designated A4.
South Africa were automatically placed in Group A, based in Johannesburg and Durban, because they are hosts and Zambia in Group C as holders. Group C is in Nelspruit.
Group B is headed by Ghana and will be hosted by Port Elizabeth.
Group D is the toughest of the four pools with pre-tournament favourites Cote d’Ivoire paired with two former winners in Algeria and Tunisia.
“I think South Africa will be favourites,” added Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi.