Coach Rulani Mokwena eagerly looking forward to AFCON

Coach Rulani Mokwena will be one of the most excited figures cheering in front of the TV as eleven of his stars will be vying for top honors at the Africa Cup of Nations, which runs from January 13 to February 11, 2024.

Ten of these stars are part of the South African squad, including Ronwen Williams, Grant Kekana, Terrence Mashego, Aubrey Modiba, Mothobi Mvala, Khuliso Mudau, Themba Zwane, Teboho Mokoena, Thapelo Maseko and Thapelo Morena. Peter Shalulile also secured a spot on the final squad list for the Namibian national team.

Interestingly, Shalulile is pitted against his club teammates in a mouthwatering Group E, which also includes Tunisia and Mali. The prospect of seeing his players battling for supremacy at the tournament excites Coach Rulani.

“It’s a tough group. My heart, as a South African, will always be with Bafana Bafana because we have several players on the team. However, with Peter Shalulile representing Namibia, I hope that both teams make it to the final. It’s normal for coaches to have emotional connections with their players. It’s my wish and dream to see that happen. Of course, I want to see my players excel on the international stage, so my support will be for both teams,” Coach Rulani added.

Bafana Bafana and the Brave Warriors faced each other twice last year, resulting in a 0-0 draw in an international friendly and a 1-1 draw in the COSAFA Cup. Aside from South Africa and Namibia, the Brazilians’ coach predicted six other teams with a strong chance of reaching the quarterfinal stage.

“Nigeria will always be favorites because they have several top players and they are never pushovers when it comes to the tournament. Morocco is another team I believe will do well because they have a great coach, a great squad and we saw their exploits at the last World Cup. Egypt can also be considered a big threat in the competition as they have the pedigree and know-how to win the title. I also tip Ghana and Senegal to be strong contenders and I think Ivory Coast will also make it to the last 8,” the Downs coach said.

Apart from his troops, Coach Rulani also tipped the players who could take the tournament by storm, saying, “Victor Osimhen is one player who is in great form and we have seen his abilities in front of goal. He leads the line confidently and scores lots of great goals and in tournaments like this, you need goals. I also think Achraf Hakimi is an exceptional player who can change the course of games in several ways. Mohammed Kudus is another game changer who I expect to impress at the tournament.”

As the 34th edition of the AFCON begins, Coach Mokwena will be hoping that his players draw inspiration from their exploits at the African Football League (AFL), which saw the Brazilians become the first-ever winners of this momentous competition.

Bafana Ba Style was a dominant force throughout the tournament, from Thapelo Maseko’s clinical finishing to Ronwen Williams’s remarkable saves. The Sundowns coach once again hailed the 12th man as he reflected on the recent AFL success.

“The AFL title belongs to everyone associated with the club, from the ground staff up to the Chairman of the club, the entire management and the players. However, it’s essential to highlight the outstanding support we received from the Yellow Nation supporters throughout our journey. In the semi-final against Al Ahly, their immense presence, enthusiastic turnout and spirited drumming, singing and cheering greatly motivated us. This support continued into the final against Wydad Casablanca, where their vibrant energy remained a driving force behind our success. The Yellow Nation supporters are undeniably one of the main reasons why we are AFL champions,” the Downs coach concluded.

The opening fixture at AFCON 24 will see hosts Ivory Coast take on Guinea-Bissau. South Africa, meanwhile, will play Mali in their opener on the 16th of January, face Namibia on the 21st, before playing Tunisia on the 24th.