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NKARENG MATSHE | Please take SA to seventh heaven, Bafana

Win over Cape Verde will make this team first to stay this long at Afcon

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
Soccer Football - Africa Cup of Nations - Round of 16 - Morocco v South Africa - Laurent Pokou Stadium, San Pedro, Ivory Coast - January 30, 2024 South Africa's Zakhele Lepasa in action with Morocco's Azzedine Ounahi
Soccer Football - Africa Cup of Nations - Round of 16 - Morocco v South Africa - Laurent Pokou Stadium, San Pedro, Ivory Coast - January 30, 2024 South Africa's Zakhele Lepasa in action with Morocco's Azzedine Ounahi

A fifth match for Bafana Bafana at this Africa Cup of Nations is not something many would have predicted, but as they face Cape Verde in tomorrow’s quarterfinal, there’s now a genuine belief that our national team could take their tally to seven games in Ivory Coast.

All they need for that to materialise is to secure victory over Cape Verde, which would mean not only a semifinal place but also a fight for one of three medals when the tournament concludes next weekend.

It seems like a dream that we are here now: a Bafana side who began the tournament with defeat could, by midnight tomorrow, be among the remaining four teams in an event many concluded they would exit without even a win.

Not since the year 2000 – when they came third in Ghana/Nigeria – have Bafana progressed beyond the quarterfinal mark (teams played a maximum of six games until 2019 when it was expanded to 24 nations).

What followed since was a story of sorrow and despair for SA at the Afcon, of missed qualification, humiliation and downright embarrassment. The only shining light was the 2019 event in Egypt when our team stunned a Mohamed Salah-led Egypt to qualify for the quarterfinal, only to lose to Nigeria.

Basically, as much as we have performed beyond expectations in Ivory Coast this time, we have to remind our boys that we’ve been here before. Just as they shocked Morocco this week, Stuart Baxter’s men stunned a star-studded Pharaohs four years ago.

Bafana now have to seize the opportunity to write a new chapter against Cape Verde, who admittedly have been one of the form sides at this year’s tournament but are by no means unbeatable.

It helps that SA have Hugo Broos who, at Gabon 2017, took an unfancied Cameroon over the line much to the shock of world football. Broos had had a pre-tournament fallout with some of Cameroon’s biggest stars, leading to their retirement from the national team, but he resorted to unknowns who eventually brought the Indomitable Lions victory in Libreville.

An unlikely podium of some sort be it a battle for bronze or gold and silver could be awaiting Bafana next week, should they see off Cape Verde tomorrow, and this would literally be our best performance at an Afcon in 24 years.

Surely that would be an indication of the giant strides the team have taken amid understandable cynicism, borne out of years of perpetual disappointment.

It has helped Bafana greatly that Broos, for all his experience as the oldest coach at this Nations Cup, is also someone open to counsel. He rectified the mistake of starting with Siyanda Xulu in the opening match, and Bafana have not conceded since. It reminds me of two years ago when, after having shut the door on Themba Zwane, he again relented and selected him after having seen him perform consistently for Mamelodi Sundowns.

The dilemma for tomorrow’s clash now is whether Broos goes into the match with the same lineup that has carried Bafana for three daunting matches running. Barring injury, there’s no reason to change anything but the danger of being predictable and consequently being found out always lurks.

But as he boldly told us, Broos knows what he’s doing and all we must do is to trust him and his troops, especially after the momentous win over Morocco. That, however, would be quickly forgotten if Bafana fail against Cape Verde tomorrow.

Victory, though, would ensure this Bafana generation opened a completely new chapter – the very first SA side to play seven matches at the Afcon. Even a good soothsayer could not have predicted that.

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