Ivory Coast v South Africa: Baxter fires warning as past winners collide

South Africa has won only one of tits last 15 AFCON matches but coach Stuart Baxter promises to give Ivory Coast a run for its money.

Stuart Baxter says South Africa must not fear its opponents.   -  Getty Images

Stuart Baxter has warned South Africa's Group D rival his side is not intimidated, despite its poor recent record at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The 1996 winner has made it through to the quarterfinals just once in the last eight editions of the tournament and failed to even qualify in 2017.

It begins its quest for a second AFCON crown against Ivory Coast at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Monday, before taking on Namibia and a much-fancied Morocco side.

South Africa has not managed to make it past the group stage in four of its last five AFCON appearances but British coach Baxter, who is in his second spell in charge, is adamant his side will give everything it has to end its disappointing run.

"We are playing against the best teams on the continent which we have in our group," he said. "We need not get intimidated but play with respect and at the same time give the opponents the respect they deserve but never fear them.

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"We are not favourites to win the tournament but what you will not see is a South African side afraid of its opponents. This is a side that can match any side in this tournament."

But Bafana Bafana has won only one of tits last 15 games in the competition - 2-0 against Angola on home soil in January 2013 - and it takes on an in-form Ivory Coast side in its opener.

The two-time winner beat Zambia 4-1 in its final warm-up match to make it just one defeat in its last 12 outings.

And one of the stars of the current squad, Lyon forward Maxwel Cornet, has talked up side's chances of going all the way for the second time in four years.

"We will go to [Egypt] to bring back the cup," he said. "It's normal. We will give everything there. It's for the whole people, a whole nation. 

"Given the disillusionment after the non-qualification for the 2018 World Cup, we are really keen to show the Ivorians that they can all count on us."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ivory Coast - Nicolas Pepe

Pepe has been linked with a number of clubs after scoring 22 times in 38 Ligue 1 appearances for runners-up Lille in 2018-19. He has formed a good partnership with Wilfried Zaha at international level and has been tipped to light up the tournament.

South Africa - Percy Tau

Belgium-based Tau has scored nine times for South Africa and is coming off the back of a good campaign with Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, where he is on loan from Premier League side Brighton and Hove Albion.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Ivory Coast and South Africa's only previous encounter in the Africa Cup of Nations was in 1998. The game ended 1-1 in the group stages, with both teams going through to the knockout stages.
- This is Ivory Coast's 23rd AFCON participation, a tally only bettered by Egypt (24).
- South Africa are the last team to win the Africa Cup of Nations on their debut, it was in 1996.
- Ivory Coast has lost only one of its last 17 AFCON group games, with their last defeat in an opening match coming against Ghana back in 1996.

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