Bafana captain: We’re not intimidated by anybody

Football



Cape Town – Bafana Bafana captain Thulani Hlatshwayo says that he is happy with the draw for the upcoming 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

Following Friday’s draw, the South Africans are being tasked with taking on former winners Ivory Coast and Morocco, as well as neighbours Namibia in Group D.

“This is a very interesting draw, and I am very happy with it,” said Hlatshwayo as quoted by the official SAFA website.

“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 (v Nigeria) and ended with another fine win (v 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,” said Hlatshwayo.

He continued: “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.”

Bafana Bafana will kick-off the tournament against powerhouses Ivory Coast on Monday, June 24, 2019.

Four days later, Stuart Baxter’s charges take on Namibia (Friday, June 28) and round off the group stages with a tricky encounter against Morocco on Monday, July 1.

Should South Africa progress to the knockout stages they would take part in the Round of 16 beginning on July 5, with the quarter-finals on July 10/11, the semi-finals on July 14 and the final taking place on July 19.

“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,” he said.

“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 played all six qualifiers as skipper, and even got his name on the score sheet in South Africa’s 6-0 victory against Seychelles in October last year.

Despite only raking in 40 appearances for the senior national side, this will be Hlatshwayo’s second AFCON tournament.

The 29-year-old was part of the 2015 AFCON squad that was guided by former Bafana Bafana head coach Shakes Mashaba, and the defender says that he learned a lot from that experience.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Bafana Bafana will play all their group stage matches at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo, Egypt.

The tournament runs from June 21 to July 19.





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