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NKARENG MATSHE | Shiny bronze must not blind us from Bafana's flaws

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos during the national football team arrival at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg.
Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos during the national football team arrival at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

The heights scaled by Bafana Bafana at the Africa Cup of Nations should not detract from the challenges they faced in creating positive history for the national team.

At a time of unusual celebration when we are more accustomed to sorrow, it would be easy to overlook flaws which so glaringly beset Bafana despite securing a first continental medal in 24 years.

The truth is, while our team were imperious in marching to the semifinals, there were plenty anxious times where Bafana could have been eliminated prematurely and departed Ivory Coast with another disappointment.

How would have our team reacted had Tunisia not been so inept in that final pool game, which we drew to confirm second place behind Mali in Group E? Could we have survived Morocco’s onslaught had Achraf Hakimi not missed that penalty with a few minutes to go in the round of 16? What about the miraculous save Ronwen Williams pulled off in the last minutes of normal time against the excellent Cape Verde in that tense quarterfinal?

Of course, such moments speak of luck also being on our side at times, but it would be disingenuous to claim Bafana’s success was the sole product of good fortune.

As he proved himself when he led Cameroon to glory at Gabon 2017, Hugo Broos believes in his squad and can get them to execute a plan to perfection. He fell short this time, but returned with not just a medal but also a single defeat, as he did in claiming the title seven years ago.

But in moving forward, Broos and his charges might not be as fortunate next time. That is why we need cool heads, not emotions, when analysing Bafana’s overall performance at the Afcon. There were just two outright wins from seven games.

Of the seven games, Bafana looked comfortable only on two occasions: the 4-0 win over Namibia (because we secured victory in the first half by scoring early) and the third-place playoff against DR Congo (because that match is usually seen as unnecessary in football circles).

For the rest of the games, you had to front up and hope for the best and, thankfully, they went our way. How, then, could Broos and his men make us more relaxed in future when supporting the national team? The answer lies in squad depth which, sadly, was sorely missing in Ivory Coast.

We simply didn’t have a strong enough bench compared, for instance, to Nigeria, who brought on Kelechi Iheanacho and Samuel Chukwueze, among the six changes they made in that semifinal against us, while we had just three subs.

Sure, Broos had a solid starting XI but any team require equally durable backup in case things go awry – and that could mean injury or just inexplicable loss of form.

As we prepare for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers, Broos must cast his net wider in finding players at the same level as his regulars at the Afcon, creating much-needed healthy competition for starting places. He has already admitted to scratching his head over a replacement for Themba Zwane, who is 34, but there’s his Mamelodi Sundowns teammate Neo Maema.

Broos overlooked Njabulo Blom, Iqraam Rayners, Fagrie Lakay and Bongolwethu Hlongwane but all should now be in the reckoning as he closes the chapter on some of the emergency picks he made for Ivory Coast. A fit Luke le Roux would have pushed both Teboho Mokoena and Sphephelo Sithole in central midfield.

We remain grateful for that bronze medal, yes, but it must not blind us from seeing the many flaws which, ordinarily, could have meant another tournament ending in tears for our beloved Bafana.

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