'Our gameplan was to stop Egypt from giving the ball to Trezeguet and Salah‚' says Zungu
When Bafana Bafana needed a performer with European-based pedigree and class to stand up to the threat of Egypt's Mohamed Salah and Trézéguet‚ Bongani Zungu answered that call in the South Africa's 1-0 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) shock of the hosts on Saturday night.
There were so many outstanding performances on the night - as South Africa silenced the 75‚000-crowd at Cairo International Stadium‚ and shocked Africa eliminating the feared hosts - that picking out any one player would seem unfair.
Goalkeeper Ronwen Williams‚ captain Thulani Hlatshwayo at the back‚ left-back Sifiso Hlanti brutalising Salah‚ Dean Furman returning from injury to be everywhere‚ Percy Tau running like a lion‚ and Thembinkosi Lorch coming in and adding an attacking dimension - and‚ of course‚ scoring the 85th-minute winner.
But Zungu‚ playing just in front of Furman and Mokotjo in a midfield three that laid the platform for the victory‚ was immense closing spaces and winning the ball high up the field and looking for the probing passes.
He showed all the class of a player who has earned rave reviews in Ligue 1 for Amiens SC.
"Credit must go to the guys. We showed character‚ we showed hunger‚ and we had our gameplan spot on‚" Zungu said afterwards.
"The coach told us to go out there and enjoy ourselves. And from every battle‚ every tackle‚ every time we had the ball‚ I feel like we tried our best.
"And I feel like we deserved to win tonight. Ja‚ we were superb.
"Games like this‚ you need to show character. You need to show your level.
"For me‚ I felt confident. I felt good in the match. I have played in such hostile games in France. And I tried my best to motivate the players.
"We showed character. And I'm happy for the coach. We come from a very difficult situation in the group stages.
"And I feel like tonight we showed our level. And hopefully we carry on from here."
Bafana were unconvincing in the group stage‚ where their attack failed. Baxter was infuriatingly conservative.
But‚ even then‚ those paying attention could see an excellent structure. That is the starting point going into any major competition.
With nothing to lose against Egypt‚ Baxter set his attackers free. The results were startling.
"The coach told us to keep a level head. And he told us to go out there and enjoy on and off the ball‚" Zungu said.
"And‚ yeah man‚ we motivated each other. At half time he told us to carry on. And that was a brilliant performance.
"I felt like everyone gave their all‚ from the goalkeeper [forward]. Because our gameplan was to stop them from giving the ball to Trezeguet and Salah.
"And [centre-forward] Lebo Mothiba‚ and us in the midfield‚ had to close them from giving them the ball.
"So‚ yeah‚ everyone played good and we are very happy."
South Africa meet nemesis team Nigeria at Cairo International in Wednesday's quarterfinal (kickoff 9pm).
Zungu once had a pretty good game against the Super Eagles‚ too‚ right at the very start of this tournament‚ as Bafana opened the qualifiers in Baxter's first game in charge with a first-ever competitive win against Nigeria‚ 2-0 in Uyo.
Saturday night's win - in the knockout stages of the finals‚ against the home team - eclipsed that result.
Nigeria beat Cameroon 3-2 in a thriller in Saturday's earlier last-16 clash. It won't be an easy game. Bafana - and Benin‚ beating Morocco - have shown their are no easy games.
But‚ confidence sky-rocketing‚ South Africa will look for another big performance in the quarters.
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