Bafana Bafana captain Thulani Hlatshwayo says he is satisfied with the outcome of the draw for the Total 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Stuart Baxter’s team qualified for the continental tournament after claiming a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Libya in their final qualification game in Sfax, Tunisia, through a brace from Percy Tau.
The South African national team have now been drawn in Group D alongside Ivory Coast, Morocco and Namibia.
Bafana will kick start their campaign against Ivory Coast on 24 June, followed by neighbours Namibia four days later (28 June) before rounding off the group stages against Morocco on 11 July.
‘This is a very interesting draw, and I am very happy with it. I am glad we did not get so-called small nations because we seem to be at our best when we face big-name countries, so I am confident we will do well. Mind you, we started the qualifications with a win [vs Nigeria] and ended with another fine win [vs Libya], and both matches were away – not only that, we also qualified without losing a game, and that means we are doing something right. So we have to continue where we left off, and I believe with the nation behind us we will get it right,’ Hlatshwayo told Safa.net.
‘What makes this more exciting personally, is that I have never played against Ivory Coast and Morocco at senior level, but I am very aware of what they are all about. They are physical, but that is not an issue for us as we have faced similar opposition before. So I am really looking forward to these matches. I believe we are more experienced now, and we are not intimated by anybody anymore – but we worked hard to get here, and that’s what gives me confidence ahead of the tournament.’
The Bafana skipper added: ‘I believe that is a good way to start the tournament with such strong opposition and we all know a positive start sets the tone for the competition. For long we have been looking for our identity and I believe with recent performances we have found that – but we cannot afford to relax because the intention is not just getting out of the group, but doing well in the entire tournament.
‘I am excited because we have hungry players. They are also motivated, disciplined and most importantly, united. We may be from different clubs, but when we don the national team jersey we become one. To our advantage we have some youngsters, but they have wealth of experience. Also, I really loved the welcome we got after we qualified, and we would like more of that – but we know the only way is if we do well in the tournament.’
Hlatshwayo, who has already made 40 appearances for Bafana Bafana, says that he has learnt a lot from his experience under then-coach Ephraim Shakes Mashaba during their exploits at the Afcon in 2015.
‘It was a great experience playing in my first tournament four years ago. We learnt a lot and I can’t wait for this one because these are the kind of games we live and long for. We are going there with a purpose, and it will be an honour for me to lead the team in this one – in Equatorial Guinea I got to wear the armband once, when we faced Algeria in the 2-2 draw.
‘Every match will be key, we can’t target one or two teams points – we are aiming for three points in every match we play, because you don’t want to get to the last match needing points and not in control of your destiny. Gunning for three points means you are able to determine your own future in the tournament, and that is what we are looking at,’ Hlatshwayo concluded.
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