Stuart Baxter’s side have been handed a tough draw, and they have their work cut out to progress to the knockout stages.
Nonetheless, after a strong qualifying campaign, Bafana Bafana will be quietly confident that they can squeeze into the knockouts, but here’s who they have to face to get there…
Fifa Ranking: 45 (four in Africa)
How they qualified: Bounced back from an opening defeat by Cameroon to top Group B with 11 points.
Nations Cup pedigree: One-time winners, but without a Nations Cup title since 1976. Could Herve Renard end the Atlas Lions’ wait this time around?
Coach: Renard is the only manager to have won the tournament with two separate nations. He’s a master of knockout football, and has got this Atlas Lions squad invested in his philosophy and tactical approach. The charismatic Frenchman represents a major asset for Morocco.
Star Player: Hakim Ziyech headlines a talented squad. At the time of writing, the playmaker has made 25 decisive contributions in the Eredivisie this season, and has also starred in Ajax’s run to the Champions League quarter-finals.
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Fifa Ranking: 65 (10 in Africa)
How they qualified: Unconvincingly, they began with a home defeat by Guinea, laboured to a draw away at the Central African Republic, but still progressed with 11 points.
Nations Cup pedigree: The Elephants’ Golden Generation may have been repeatedly denied on Africa’s grandest stage, but the Ivorians still have two titles. In 1992, they won their first crown, before Renard guided them to a memorable victory 23 years later.
Coach: Ibrahima Kamara was a low-profile appointment compared to some of his predecessors, but he is well respected in the local game. There’s no shortage of talent at his disposal, but can he meld his many creative and offensive players into a coherent unit?
Star Player: Nicolas Pepe is arguably the finest player in Europe’s major leagues not playing at a massive club. He was influential in saving LOSC Lille from the drop last season, and has 18 goals and nine assists for Les Dogues so far this season. He’s taken the Northerners to the brink of the Champions League, and will have no shortage of suitors in the summer.
Fifa Ranking: 113 (28 in Africa)
How they qualified: Along with Guinea-Bissau, they benefited from Zambia’s poor showing to qualify from a weak Group K. However, a matchday six 4-1 thumping by the Chipolopolo ought to have got the warning bells sounding.
Nations Cup pedigree: Namibia were eliminated in the group stage in both 1998 and 2008, and are yet to win a match at the tournament.
Coach: Ricardo Mannetti has warned that Namibia will be the “best underdogs” at the Nations Cup, although even he wouldn’t have expected such a difficult draw. The 43-year-old knows South African football well, following stints with Santos Cape Town and Bush Bucks.
Star Player: Benson Shilongo will be right at home at the Afcon, having moved to Ismaily in January. The striker has featured for other Egyptian sides—Pyramids FC and Smouha—after leaving Platinum Stars in January 2018.