Helman Mkhalele confident Bafana Bafana can advance beyond Afcon group phase

Bafana find themselves in a group which features two giants, but the retired winger has backed Stuart Baxter's side to win the tournament

Legendary South African midfielder Helman Mkhalele believes that Bafana Bafana will progress beyond the group phase at the upcoming 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Egypt.

Bafana were pitted against giants of African football, Morocco and Ivory Coast in Group D which is widely considered to be the group of death as it features three former Afcon champions.

Mkhalele, who represented South Africa at the 1998 Fifa World Cup finals in France, is not surprised as Bafana were destined to be drawn against two higher-ranked teams.

"It is a very interesting group with strong teams. It is not surprising that we have been drawn against a North African team and West African side because we were in pot three," Mkhalele told Goal.

"I am optimistic because we always do well against the so-called top teams. We have recorded positive results against teams like Nigeria and Cameroon in recent years," he indicated.

"Morocco and Ivory Coast are both formidable teams. The good thing about being drawn against them is that we know what to expect from them. We watched Morocco at last year's Fifa World Cup in Russia," Mkhalele said.

Group D also features Bafana's Southern African rivals Namibia, who are back at the Afcon finals for the first since 2008.

"There is also Namibia and we should not forget about them. We cannot afford to underestimate them just because they are our neighbours. They should be respected as they are a good team. We won't have it easy against them," he warned.

Article continues below

Mkhalele was part of the Bafana squad that finished second at the 1998 tournament having faced Namibia, Ivory Coast and Angola on their way to the final where they lost to Egypt.

"My only concern is the injuries that have affected Bafana's key players this season. I really hope that they recover in time for the tournament. They have to be fresh by the time the tournament starts," Mkhalele explained.

Bafana's first-choice goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune is currently nursing a long-term injury which has ruled him out for the rest of season.

South Africa trio of Bongani Zungu, Keagan Dolly and Sibusiso Vilakazi are also trying to regain their full fitness after recovering from long-term injuries and they will be hoping to secure their spots in Stuart Baxter's final 23-man squad for the tournament. 

"Bafana players should be psychologically and mentally fit going into this tournament. That is very important if we want to advance to the knockout stages," he explained.

"Bafana should go there with an intention to win the tournament. They have what it takes to win it in my view. We just have to come up with a good plan which we can break down into smaller objectives from the group stage to the final," he added.

"So, I foresee us reaching the knockout stage, but it won't be easy because we are in a tough group," he concluded.

The 24-team tournament will be hosted by Egypt from 21 June to 19 July 2019.