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Africa Cup of Nations: South Africa’s Tau dreaming big

South Africa Percy Tau vies for the ball with Libya's defender Sanad Al-Warfali in March

Percy Tau believes South Africa have steadily improved under coach Stuart Baxter

Striker Percy Tau believes South Africa can put recent Africa Cup of Nations failures to one side as they seek a big impact in Egypt.

Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and finished bottom of their group in 2015.

But Belgium-based Tau believes a decent start in a challenging Group D can propel the team forwards.

“We see a bigger picture and everything is possible if we are able to pass the group stage,” said Tau.

“We want to do better than at the previous Africa Cup of Nations. We think and believe big of ourselves as a nation.”

This year’s finals, the first to feature 24 teams following the decision to expand the tournament, begin on Friday when hosts Egypt face Zimbabwe in Cairo in Group A.

Group D, meanwhile, sees coach Stuart Baxter’s side face Morocco, Ivory Coast and neighbours Namibia.

Nonetheless, Tau sees reasons to be optimistic despite the pairing with 2015 champions Ivory Coast and a Moroccan side guided by coach Herve Renard, who has won the title twice.

“It’s a very interesting group,” said Tau, who plays for Belgium’s Royale Union Saint-Gilloise.

“That’s why we are there, to play the matches, and we expect it to be hard. We understand we’re going to face some moments when we will suffer as a team, but we just want to get better and improve.

“Since the head coach Stuart [Baxter] came in, we’ve become better. And then there’s so much confidence around the team because we were able to qualify without a defeat.

“We just feel everything is possible and we just have to get our heads right and work.”

Serving a second spell in charge, Baxter replaced Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba in 2017 and has returned a measure of stability to the team.

South Africa were in the same Nations Cup qualifying group as Nigeria and not only went unbeaten in the group but also beat the Super Eagles on home soil.

“We have always seen his work in the teams that he has coached and how he wants to play,” said Tau.

“Even in the national team, it’s another level but he is taking us to that level – that is, to be an international. We are very grateful to have him.

“With more time we understand more of what he wants us to do and how and when. Having him there makes it much easier for us because he’s got everything for us.”

South Africa coach Stuart Baxter<!–

Stuart Baxter took charge of South Africa in 2017, having previously led the team between 2004-5

Tau has been a key player in South Africa’s resurrection under Baxter.

The striker, on loan from Premier League side Brighton and Hove Albion at the Belgian second-division club, has scored nine times for Bafana Bafana and is intent on developing his game further after his first season in Europe with an eye on moving back to his parent club.

“I always see progress, each and every day,” said Tau. “And that’s something I look for – to be better than the previous day.

“Since I’ve left South Africa, I’ve seen so much progress in my game in a lot of aspects: scoring, assisting, working hard, the number of sprints, the number of dribbles, the duels, how many balls I win back.

“It has all been about learning and getting stronger and adapting to European football. That has altered my game a lot.”

South Africa, who won the Nations Cup back in 1996, open their Group D campaign against Ivory Coast’s two-time champions in Cairo on Monday.

Africa Cup of Nations: South Africa’s Tau dreaming big

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