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January 1, 2015 1:32 pm

South African Jewish Soccer Star Dean Furman Leads National Team Into African Cup of Nations

avatar by Ben Cohen

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"We're going in with a lot of confidence," says Jewish South African midfielder Dean Furman about the forthcoming African Cup of Nations. Photo: Twitter

As South Africa’s national soccer team prepares for the forthcoming African Cup of Nations, which kicks off on January 17 in Equatorial Guinea, all eyes are on Dean Furman, the Jewish midfielder widely tipped to captain the side during the three-week tournament.

“I’m very excited at this stage,” Furman told The Algemeiner from England, where he has established himself as a mainstay in the center of the park for Doncaster Rovers, who play in League One, the third tier of English professional soccer. “We had a great qualifying campaign and we’re going in with a lot of confidence.”

Furman went into South Africa’s last two qualifying games, against Sudan and Nigeria, as team captain. After a 2-1 victory against the Sudanese and a 2-2 draw with the Nigerians, during which Furman’s exquisite pass set up Takelo Rantie to level the game for the South Africans, the team finished top of their qualifying group.

Furman clearly wants to lead his team again. Serving as captain “was an incredible experience for me and for my family,” he said. At the same time, he noted that the captaincy came his way “in the worst possible circumstances,” following the murder of the former captain, the much-loved goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa, during an attempted burglary at his girlfriend’s house near Johannesburg last year.

Furman, who comes from what he describes as a “traditional” Jewish family, said that his Jewish identity is something he’s very proud of. But, he joked, “it doesn’t necessarily affect my football.”

South Africa – hailed by their fans as the “Bafana Bafana” (“Boys Boys”) – open their quest for the African Cup of Nations trophy on January 19 with a tough match against Algeria, one of the strongest teams on the African continent. The Algerians edged out Russia and South Korea to reach the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, before they were defeated 2-1 by Germany, who went on to win the tournament.

As well as Algeria, the South Africans will face stiff competition from Senegal and Ghana as they attempt to reach the knockout stage.

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