Stuart Baxter’s 30-man provisional squad is expected to assemble this weekend, with a heated battle for places on the cards, given that only 23 men can travel to Egypt for the tournament.
Ahead of that, there is the 2019 Cosafa Cup, with Bafana fielding largely an Under-23 side, and coached by David Notoane, with a view to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, but, if Baxter is to be believed, there is also a chance for players to leap their way into the Afcon squad.
This is one of those mathematical equations that is difficult to figure out, given that 23 doesn’t go into 30 Afcon players, let alone 52 players if you include the Cosafa Cup squad (Keagan Dolly is the odd man out, in both squads).
But maybe, if Phakamani Mahmalbi scores successive hat tricks in the Cosafa Cup, or Luther Singh mesmerises enough, or Reeve Frosler looks sharp at right back, they could force their way into the Afcon fray.
In the meantime, Bafana, even with a team largely made up of youngsters, could do with winning the Cosafa Cup to improve what is a poor record in this competition, if you compare South African resources to the other competing teams. It says a lot that Zimbabwe lead the way in Cosafa Cup victories, with six, compared to SA with four, level with Zambia.
In the last tournament Bafana went out on penalties to Madagascar and could do with avoiding further embarrassment, especially in an Afcon year.
Moving to the Africa Cup of Nations, a lot has been made of how Bafana have qualified for Egypt 2019, but it is hard to know how far they will be able to go at the continental showpiece event, expanded to 24 teams for the first time.
This expansion does mean that qualification actually means less than it ever has, in some sense, and making it to the knockout rounds (with a last-16 now in place) is easier than it has ever been. After all, in four of the six groups, the team that finishes third out of four teams will progress to the next round.
In this context, even in a group with Morocco and the Ivory Coast, for Bafana to fail to get to the last-16 has to be seen as a failure.
Baxter has been playing it fairly coy on Bafana’s chances, and will hope for a seamless build up, without too many injuries to key players, a matter that must give every coach sleepless nights ahead of a major tournament. Bafana’s tournament record in recent times does not exactly give cause for optimism, and yet this team has shown itself to be capable of excellent performances on their day, like in the Afcon qualifying win in Nigeria or the World Cup qualifying win at home to Burkina Faso.
Could this finally be the time for Bafana to inspire a nation? Or will they continue to lag behind the women’s team, getting ready in France for their first ever appearance at a World Cup finals?
It is certainly apt that the South African Football Association announced this week that Banyana would get the same win bonuses as Bafana, if they can progress to the last-16. About time too.