CAPE TOWN Oct 25 South Africa soccer coach Gordon Igesund will be hoping a fortuitous choice on stage at the African Nations Cup finals draw will turn around his luck after a difficult four months in charge.
The coach, who has endured team problems off the field rather than on it, looked to be further in the mire in the closing stages of Wednesday's draw when hosts South Africa faced the prospect of being paired with long-time nemesis Nigeria.
Having already drawn the unpredictable Morocco and giant killers Cape Verde Islands in Group A for next January's finals, the addition of Nigeria would have been a blow to South Africa's already flagging confidence.
With two balls left to choose from in the glass pot on stage at Durban's convention centre, former Zambia international Kalusha Bwalya pulled out Angola rather than the Super Eagles and handed Igesund a reprieve from weeks of setbacks - and the hope that his fortunes might now be on the up.
"It was touch and go there," Igesund said of the possibility of facing Nigeria, who have consistently beaten South Africa in competitive matches and were the team all coaches sought to avoid.
Last week Igesund's assistant coach Thomas Madigage was killed in a car crash.
"It is at moments like this that you want him to be standing next to you and it was just over a week ago we were joking around and having fun on the side of the pitch," Igesund told South Africa's SuperSport television channel before being overcome by emotion.
Madigage's death put in perspective a long list of injuries that have beset South Africa's preparations and are likely to leave them without several first-choice players when they kick off the tournament against Cape Verde at Johannesburg's Soccer City on Jan. 19.
Captain Steven Pienaar unexpectedly quit international football at the start of this month, saying his body was too tired to take the excursions of playing for Everton in the English Premier League as well as the demands of the international calendar.
Top striker Katlego Mphela, midfielder Thulani Serero and defender Morgan Gould will likely miss the Nations Cup through injury and other key players face late bids for fitness
As a result, Igesund has been forced to turn to 35-year-old striker Benni McCarthy, himself out for the last six weeks with a pulled hamstring, to lead his attack at the tournament.
Igesund took over as coach in July and his first match in charge was away to five-times world champions Brazil.
South Africa lost to a late goal in Sao Paulo but have looked improved under Igesund's tutelage, even with experimental line-ups and the inability to pick their best players.
"It was a fair draw," said Igesund of Wednesday's proceedings. "The opening match is important and we must be careful because Cape Verde knocked Cameroon out of the qualifiers, so we can't take them lightly, while Morocco and Angola could offer some stiff opposition.
"But I'm confident that we can do well in our opening matches and proceed to the next round," he added on Thursday. (Editing By Alison Wildey)