The wait is over

JOHANNESBURG - The long-awaited African Nations Cup kicks off this afternoon at the Soccer City with a mouth-watering opening match between hosts Bafana Bafana and islanders Cape Verde being the main attraction.

The spiritual home of South African football is expected to blossom into full life as early as the sun rises.

There is entertainment galore with the stylish opening ceremony, whose theme of African celebration and demystifying xenophobia is expected to be viewed across the world.

The opening match between Bafana and Cape Verde which will be followed by that of Morocco and Angola will be an icing on the cake for football fanatics who are expected to descend at the National Stadium in huge numbers.

On the side of the home team, things have really been hotting up going into today’s encounter. The players have refused to speak to members of the media after they were lashed out for lacking character after losing to Norway and a dreary draw against Algeria in the warm-up matches.

Coach Gordon Igesund has literally thrown a ring of steel around his players refusing them daily interactions with the media, libelling the local media “traitors” for their incessant disparaging remarks.

The confrontation came to a head last Thursday when the coach gave one line answers to journalists’ questions.

That presser lasted less than five minutes in instances where press conferences normally take 30 minutes to one hour.

In one instance, a journalist asked whether he thought Bafana were ready to take on the best on the continent and instead of explaining how he had fixed the loopholes ahead of today’s opening game, Igesund replied; “Yes, we are ready.”

Another asked how Kagiso Dikgacoi’s injury was doing to which he answered: “KG is fine.”

Such has been the frosty relationship between the national coach and members of the fourth estate that at times, the coach has called them names and people who don’t know whether they are coming or going.

The past week has literally been tense between the two entities and today will tell who will have the last laugh.

The coach insists his record, in which he is the most decorated coach in the country, does not lie and that this team will deliver come the Afcon tournament.

On the other end, the media has cast a shadow of doubt about this squad’s capabilities especially failure to score goals.

In a bid to endear themselves with the fans, Bafana have taken their vow of dying for the nation to the next level by refusing bonuses in all of their opening games.

They will also not take bonuses for reaching the semis, a move that underlined their determination to emulate the 96 class.

Their argument is money has never been an issue since most of them have made money playing for their respective clubs whether locally or overseas.

It is a rare gesture in modern football that players forego their bonuses to prove a point.

Whatever the outcome, the gesture has proven that African players do not necessarily place money ahead of the country and might set a good precedent for other countries normally beset by bonus issues ahead of such crucial tournaments.

After today’s opening game, Bafana move to their more familiar KwaZulu Natal territory where they have enjoyed huge success.

Their next two Group A games will be played at the imposing Moses Mabhida Stadium.

According to the local organising committee (LOC) chief executive Mvuzo Mbebe, full stadiums, hospitality to African visitors and an unprecedented vibe will constitute his dream meaning of success for this tournament.

Today’s opening day will set the tone of what is to come. You be the judge. - Tinotenda Panashe

*Panashe is our South Africa-based columnist. He can be contacted by e-mail at Tinotenda.Panashe@gmail.com.

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