South Africa (Bafana Bafana), is back in the continent’s flagship tournament after missing out in 2017, but face a difficult assignment in Egypt starting Monday having been drawn alongside 2015 champions Ivory Coast and a strong Morocco side coached by two-time Cup of Nations winner Herve Renard, as well as Namibia in Group D.
These countries resume a rivalry 21 years after drawing 1-1 in Burkina Faso, and a similar outcome at the Al Salam Stadium would not be surprising as neither side dare loose.
“As much as every team wants to win its first tournament match, it is crucial not to lose because it puts you on the back foot immediately,” says South Africa coach Stuart Baxter.
While Ivory Coast has a potential matchwinner in Pepe from Ligue 1 runners-up Lille, South Africa hope Percy Tau can rise to the occasion after a season in the Belgian second division.
The slightly-built attacker was signed by Premier League outfit Brighton last season, lent to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium, and his brace against Libya ensured qualification for Egypt.
South Africa had a puzzling build-up with Baxter rejecting a chance to play in a regional championship, then complaining that he had only one warm-up match, a draw against Ghana.
Ivory Coast vs South Africa: Prediction, head-to-head and TV stream
Considering South Africa is more known for showboating rather than actually performing, it’s perhaps surprising that Ivory Coast has a win probability of just 45%. The draw is the second most likely outcome and South Africa winning is given just a 25% chance.
Ivory Coast has won 80% of their last five matches, South Africa just 67%.
The Ivorians have, however, had a bit of a dip in form since last winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015. They were booted out in the group stages last time out and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But, South Africa hasn’t done much better.