Fear and loafing in Durbs
TOMORROW night, I might finally lose it. The Afcon 2013 draw is upon us and these ceremonies always pose a grave threat to my mental stability. They inflict a lethal flurry of psychological blows: gratuitous suspense, self-worshipping speeches, abysmal scripted jokes and infestations of pompous "dignitaries". (What is the correct collective noun, by the way? A belch of dignitaries? A platter of dignitaries?)
Our own Supreme Dignitary, President Jacob Zuma, will try in vain to dignify the proceedings down in Durbs with his giggling uncle vibes. But we can expect no giggles from Confederation of African Football President/Emperor Issa Hayatou, the grim Machiavellian potentate who has reigned over the continent's football since 1987.
The draw itself will be made by the confederation's new secretary-general, Hicham el Amrani, of Morocco, who at just 33 is a refreshingly youthful addition to the pantheon of continental officialdom.
Even without the deadly droning of Africa's football royalty, it will be an excruciating evening for Bafana coach Gordon Igesund, who has been frank about his fear of drawing Nigeria as opponents in Group A. But even if Bafana manage to avoid the Super Eagles, they will have to confront one of Mali, Angola and Tunisia, the other sides in Pot 2 - all well capable of blocking the hosts' path to the quarterfinals. Igesund will probably consider Angola to be the lesser of four evils.
Morocco or Algeria could emerge from Pot 3, and a nightmare draw would be completed by the resurgent Democratic Republic of Congo from Pot 4. Under the canny stewardship of Claude le Roy, and spearheaded by the scintillating strike duo of Tresor Mputu and Dieumerci Mbokani, the DRC are the "minnows" to fear.
But perhaps being plunged into a Group of Death might not be disastrous for Bafana. There is enough quality in Igesund's squad to live with all the sides in this draw barring fellow seeds Ivory Coast, Ghana and Zambia. And the prospect of facing their old foes, the Super Eagles, will be inspirational.
As always, the size and passion of the home crowds will be crucial. Luckily there's no danger of the premature elation that defined Bafana's build-up to the 2010 World Cup. The Bafana marketing machine overcooked the hype on the back of a few friendly victories - some of which (it later transpired) were fixed by rotten referees.
Remember the delirious ticker-tape parade through Sandton before a ball was kicked in anger? It was ridiculous, in retrospect. And when the unforgiving reality of a World Cup tournament kicked in, Bafana were outclassed.
There's little danger of over-confidence going into Afcon 2013. Everyone accepts that Bafana are starting from the parking basement of African football. It will be a long, scary climb to the top floor.