Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Lessons learned as Bafana Bafana progress

Africa Cup of Nations 2013: What lessons did we learn as South Africa and Cape Verde send a warning to their rivals?

South Africa will be a force in the knockout stages

South Africa may not have entered this tournament as one of the favourites, but they will be a very dangerous team in the quarter-finals. With fanatical home support willing them on, they were able to find another gear in the second-half against Morocco, equalising twice in spectacular and dramatic fashion. Late goals have a way of boosting teams’ morale, and Bafana Bafana will enter the knock-out stages in confident fashion after winning Group A. They will face the runners-up in Group B, which Ghana currently top, but any of Mali, DR Congo or Niger can qualify on Monday depending on results. If Ghana beat Niger, as expected, South Africa will fancy their chances against either Mali or DR Congo in the last eight. South Africa were crowned champions the last time they hosted the tournament in 1996 and they have a good chance of repeating the feat.

Never underestimate the underdogs

You would have to be a cold-hearted individual to begrudge the romance of Cape Verde’s quarter-finals qualification. The islanders are the smallest ever team to grace the Africa Cup of Nations, and, though the highest Fifa ranked team in Group A, many had condemned them as first-round fodder before a ball had even been kicked. But a young side blessed with technique and fight – spearheaded by tricky midfielder Luis Platini – will be a match for their more-feted counterparts in the knockout stage. However, they are by no means perfect. For vast periods in their dramatic triumph over Angola they looked to have run out of ideas and will need more invention to carve possible quarter-finals opponents Ghana and Mali open. But a warning has been sounded and whoever the Blue Sharks face next will do well to wise up on a very real threat – it is time to ditch the ‘surprise package’ label and treat them as equals on the African stage.

Feed your strikers

Former Manchester United forward Manucho cut a frustrated figure for much of Sunday’s match. And who could blame him? Over and over again his compatriots could not pick out their star man – a player who breathed life force into Angola on the rare occasions that he managed to get within heading distance of the ball. In a competition which has been starved of goals for long stretches, you cannot help but think the service given to Manucho sums up many teams’ problems. Just because a side contains a stand-out striker, it does not mean it a case of ‘plug-and-play’ up top. Not even the world’s hottest striker, Falcao, could find space in the attacking third when no one is making the runs in behind in order to shake markers off his tail. Tactics have to be carefully constructed to bring out the best of players – in Manucho’s case, too often his team-mates would bound about the pitch haphazardly rather than bring out the best of their talisman.

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