(Photo credit: Media Club South Africa)
13:00 GMT, Thursday 22nd March, Levy Mwanawasa Stadium (Ndola, Zambia)
Last year, it was revealed that the World Cup will be expanded to 48 teams from 2026. Yes, this may be eight years away, but there is now a light at the end of the tunnel for the African teams.
At the World Cup this summer, just four African teams will travel to Russia. South Africa and Angola, who have graced the finals before, will not be a part of the tournament, but with more African sides to travel to the World Cup in 2026, they will be amongst the front runners in eight years' time.
As the nations lock horns in their Four Nations opener in Zambia (Zambia and Zimbabwe are the other sides), their preparations commence for World Cup qualification four years from now, but both will know that 2026 is a more realistic target.
Last time out
Senegal 2-1 South Africa (World Cup qualifier)
South Africa travelled to Senegal knowing they had no chance of travelling to the World Cup, but a game showing no doubt impressed boss Stuart Baxter.
Bafana Bafana actually came to close to winning the tie and could have been 2-1 up had Themba Zwane converted a second half penalty. Senegal centre back Kara Mbodji then popped up in extra time to grab the winner for the hosts and give them the perfect send off to the World Cup.
Nigeria 2-1 Angola (African Nations Championship quarterfinal)
The African Nations Championship is an interesting tournament as only players who play in their home nations are eligible to play. This perhaps gave Angola coach Srdjan Vasiljevic a head start on future tournament prep, but he always had his work cut out against a superior Nigeria team.
After coming second in the group stage, with two 0-0 stalemates and a surprise win over Cameroon, Angola gave Nigeria a god run for their money in the quarterfinal. Va gave the Angolans a surprise lead, but Anthony Okpotu’s equaliser in injury time took the game into an extra time. Gabriel Okechukwu stole the victory for Nigeria in the added period, with the Super Eagles going on to reach the final of the competition.
South Africa lineup
14 changes have been made from the South African squad that played against Senegal as Stuart Baxter looks to the future. Just three men apply their trade in Europe, Kamohelo Mokotjo (Brentford), Keagan Dolly (Montpellier) and Lebo Mothiba (Lille).
Lazio defender has been recalled after being ineligible for the African Nations Championship, along with the experienced Djalma Campos. Striker Gelson Dia misses out whilst recovering from injury.
Key battle: Dean Furman (South Africa) vs Almeida (Angola)
Dean Furman is the recognisable name in the South African squad, having been a regular in English football for Bradford, Oldham and Doncaster.
He returned to his native South Africa in 2015, playing for SuperSport United, and at the age of 29 he knows he only has one more chance of a World Cup. Expect him to be the motivator on the pitch for the Bafana as they four-year cycle to Qatar 2022 begins.
As for Almeida, he is an unknown prospect with just seven international caps to his name. You can expect that an old-school player like Furman will give him little room and look to make it an unpleasant afternoon for the 24-year-old Almeida.
Taking your opportunity
It is a pretty much a free-hit for both sides, four years out from the World Cup, but a starring performance can thrust you firmly into your managers players. With both sides making plenty of changes, the window is open for a new star to be unearthed, and a tournament like the Four Nations provides the perfect platform.
With the tournament taking place in Zambia, this could provide the opportunity to give Angola a slight advantage. The South African fans are amongst the best in world football as we saw at the World Cup eight years ago, but they could be outnumbered by Angola. The border to Angola is 500km away from Ndola, around double than that to South Africa, which is separated by Zimbabwe.
Prediction: South Africa 2-1 Angola
It’s a close one to call, given Angola’s more recent football and useful form, but South Africa should have the quality to just get over the line.