The South Africans completed their preparations on home soil on Tuesday, 6 January in Johannesburg.
They depart for Gabon to continue preparations for the tournament where they have scheduled a warm-up match against Cameroon on Saturday, 10 January in Libreville, with another one against hosts Gabon on the cards.
Phala returned to the national team set-up having played his last match in March last year against New Zealand in Auckland.
He is gearing for his second AFCON after playing in the 2013 edition that was held in South Africa. The winger played in all four matches against Cape Verde, Angola, Morocco and Mali, who edged Bafana Bafana out on penalties after both sides were tied at 1-0.
He spoke to the media after the squad’s final training session in South Africa.
SAFA Media: How does it feel to be back?
Thuso Phala: It is good to be back. I was not involved in the qualifiers and if you consider that, I believe this is a great achievement for me, especially now that I am going to my second AFCON tournament. I am really proud and happy about it. Getting my first goal for my country is also another milestone as a player, more so for the team that we got a win.
SAFA Media: Having played in the AFCON is there a difference in the squads of then and now?
TP: Clearly there is a difference in the age department, too many youngsters now, more energetic, more positive. I am here for the first time under coach Shakes and all you see around is positivity because he is a very positive person and it rubs off the players. Everyone is confident and looking forward to the games.
SAFA Media: Many are seeing South Africa as underdogs, do you share the same sentiments?
TP: Bearing in mind that we qualified with a match to go, I don’t think we can be seen as underdogs. Going to the tournament most countries will be more prepared for us because perhaps they have been watching our tapes during the qualifiers, so I don’t think we are underdogs. But if the other countries want to see us as underdogs it will be to their disadvantage, if you think about it with the players we have we booked our place in Equatorial Guinea with a game remaining but they still had to wait for the last match to qualify. That said, I see us as one of the favourites in our group.
SAFA Media: What do you think of the team during the qualifiers when you were not part of it?
TP: I was very impressed with the team, watching them play. Even though I was not part of the team I was very happy for the country. For once the media and the public were always looking forward to watch the team play, and everyone was confident that they could go to Congo and get a win not hope for a draw. This time the positive energy was around the whole country that the boys were doing well, I am happy to be part of it now. Watching them play, especially away, they were positive and now we are positive we can go to Equatorial Guinea and win.
SAFA Media: How do you see the Bafana Bafana’s chances in Equatorial Guinea?
TP: The most difficult part of the competition is to qualify for the knockout stages, but once you are through there it’s anybody’s game. The last time we lost on penalties and it could have gone either way but we were unfortunate. This time we must work on qualifying for the next round and we could go all the way.
SAFA Media: Some players say they prefer playing away as opposed to home, what’s your view?
TP: Personally, it is never easy playing away, but at the same time it is sometimes not easy playing at home where you have your own fans on your back and there is a lot of pressure. But if you are in this game you must understand the pressure and absorb it. Everywhere you go there is pressure when playing.
SAFA Media: You featured prominently in the last AFCON, do you expect the same to happen this time around?
TP: We have a lot of training sessions before the tournament starts, with two games thrown into the mix and coach Shakes selects you on how you do at training and if you do well there you could be in the starting eleven.