South Africa will be entering just their 10th AFCON, although their last appearance at the tournament was back in 2019, having not qualified for the previous one in Cameroon. But Bafana Bafana do still find themselves inside the top 100 of FIFA's rankings, so they are not to be ignored, as our South Africa AFCON 2023 preview reflects.
How did South Africa qualify for AFCON 2023?
South Africa's qualifying was slightly different to other teams as they had Zimbabwe in their group who continue to be banned by FIFA for the government's involvement in decision-making at a footballing level. Therefore, the 2010 World Cup hosts only had two opponents in their group and they were Morocco and Liberia. The latter failed to win a single game, which made it pretty straightforward for South Africa and Morocco to breeze through.
South Africa AFCON 2023 Preview
Who will South Africa play at AFCON 2023?
Group E is where you will find South Africa and they certainly have a very tough battle on their hands to even progress as one of the best third-placed teams, with Tunisia, Mali and Namibia all fancying their chances to progress.
Tunisia are the strong favourites to win this group, as they enter as the third-best African nation. But with an ageing squad, they are relying heavily on veterans which will likely help them go all the way or see them stutter from the beginning as their legs begin to give way.
Yet, they can't be underestimated either way, and South Africa would welcome a draw against the heavy favourites, although after beating Morocco in qualifying, they will fancy their chances against anyone.
Mali were very impressive in qualifying, storming to the top of their group with five wins in their six matches and find themselves in the top 10 of African sides heading into AFCON 2023 so on paper, it should be between themselves and Tunsia for the top two spots, but South Africa will be gunning for that second spot, with Mali having never even reached the final in any of their 12 attempts.
It's hard to see anything other than Namibia finishing bottom of this group. They are the lowest-ranked side and only one outside the top 100 in FIFA's standings and it's just their fourth-ever appearance at an AFCON. Even when they have managed to qualify, they've never got out of the group stages or even won a match, so anything other than three points will be a failure for South Africa.
How far will South Africa go?
If South Africa were placed into any other group they would have a solid chance of progressing, but we feel picking up a win against at least one of Mali or Tunisia is going to be a step too far for the 67th-ranked country in world football. Their target will be four points, which gives them a sporting chance of progressing as one of the best third-placed teams.
South Africa preliminary squad announcement
AFCON 2023 is now just four weeks away with squads starting to decide who they are interested in taking over to the Ivory Coast with South Africa the earliest movers having already announced their preliminary squad, which will indeed be trimmed down in due course when injuries, fitness and final decisions are made.
Williams, Mothwa, Goss, Buthelezi, Bvuma
Mobbia, Kekana, Sibisi, Modiba, Monyane, Mvala, Xulu, Msimango, Cross, Maseko, Ngezana, Xoki, Mantshiyane, Okon, Morena, Mashigo, Mudao, Basadien
Mokoena, Margeman, Adams, Blom, Timm, Monare, Mthetwa, Aubaas, Mosele, Sithole, Brooks, Maswanganyi, Mbunjana
Mayambela, Zwane, Makgopa, Mayo, Tau, Lepasa, Foster, Mothiba, Saleng, Moremi, Mokwana, Hlongwane, Appollis, Rayners
It's great news for South African fans to see Leo Mothiba included in this squad having missed the last round of international fixtures, especially when he is their most recognised and reliable player in front of goal and will be crucial to their success.
South Africa – Predicted AFCON 2023 XI
Ronwen Williams boasts an impressive record of 11 clean sheets in his 36 appearances for South Africa, including one in the 2019 AFCON, and with him also being handed the armband quite often, there is no debate over his spot in the starting lineup.
Despite making his debut back in 2016, Aubrey Modiba has only got a nailed-on spot in the side in September last year, but since then he's never looked back and is the most reliable left-back South Africa have. The veteran Siyanda Xulu has missed one of South Africa's last 11 games so it would be stunning for him to not start at AFCON 2023 and they would likely ship far more goals, while his partner will be, as usual, Mothobi Mvala who provides that extra bit of pace alongside his centre back partner.
Despite just seven appearances for South Africa, Khuliso Mudau is the undisputed right-back and has even shown himself to be a prominent force going forward scoring his first goal last month against Benin.
Yet another inexperienced South African is Yaya Sithole who will be handed the tough task of offering protection to their back four alongside his usual partner, Taboho Mokoena, who has more years on him, so will help him through tough spots at AFCON 2023.
The attacking force in midfield will be 34-year-old Themba Zwane who often floats about in the half spaces and can transition South Africa from defence into attack without breaking a sweat, such is his natural ability.
Bongokuhle Hlongwane is the star man in this team starring in the MLS with his 11 goal involvements last season and has carried that into the national team setup with four goals in 18 appearances. The opposite wing will be former Brighton man, Percy Tau, who's never lived up to lofty expectations placed on him but will be keen to deliver in front of millions.
They'll be looking to deliver balls into Lebo Mothiba who missed the last squad, but with three goals in Ligue 1 this season, he seems best placed to lead a talented attacking line into AFCON 2023.