S. Africa captain extols virtues of home support

Nick Reeves
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (L) receives a team jersey from the South African football team captain Bongani Khumalo (R) at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on January 15, 2013. Khumalo has highlighted the importance of home support in his team's quest to be crowned African champions

South Africa captain Bongani Khumalo has highlighted the importance of home support in his team's quest to be crowned African champions.

The 2013 hosts begin their campaign on Saturday against Cape Verde in Soweto's Soccer City, the 90,000-seat stadium that played host to the final of the 2010 World Cup won by Spain.

South Africa, without a Nations Cup win since 2004, won their lone title on home soil in 1996, and 17 years on Khumalo believes playing in front of a home crowd again can inspire greatness in a team that has conspicuously struggled in warm-up games.

"The atmosphere South African supporters always create is world class and absolutely unbelievable and it can inspire every player to go beyond his potential, so coming to this game on Saturday with 90 000 fans is very special," said Khumalo.

"You never know when you will have this opportunity again and we want to make the most of it," the centre-back added.

Coach Gordon Igesund received an eve-of-match boost with the return from injury of midfield kingpin Kagisho Dikgacoi.

The Crystal Palace player is back in business after missing two days of training this week.

Igesund, who excelled in club management winning a record four South African league titles with different teams, echoed his skipper's sentiments on the comforts of home.

"Playing for your country in front of a full house in the opening game of the Nations Cup is enough to push the players to deliver.

"Everybody is excited about that and they are jumping out of their skin to get on to the field. I believe they are ready for this."

Igesund has been told by his employers, the South African Football Association, that he could face the sack if his team does not progress to at least the semi-finals.

Since Igesund took over from Pitso Mosimane last year, South Africa have played eight friendlies, winning only three, and failing to score in five matches.

Their final warm-up match was against fellow qualifiers Algeria last weekend and they barely created a chance against the former 1990 champions in a drab 0-0 draw.

After Saturday's curtain-raiser against Cape Verde, the debutants who stunned African heavyweights Cameroon to qualify, South Africa face 2010 Cup hosts Angola in Durban on January 23 with Morocco lying in wait four days later.