ON THE MARK: Bafana bring the buzz, but big challenge awaits

rugby13 February 2024 15:54| © Mzansi Football
By:Mark Gleeson
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© BackpagePix

There is such a thin line between success and failure in top level sport and South Africa’s footballers successfully negotiated that in reaching the semifinals at the Africa Cup of Nations.

A bronze medal was beyond everyone’s wildest imagination, even Hugo Broos’s despite him claiming he knew the side would do it.

There was much good fortune along the way, notably Achraf Hakimi’s squandered penalty for Morocco in the last-16 tie in San Pedro and the myriads of chances that the Cape Verde Islands missed in the quarterfinal.

But then also some luck that didn’t roll for South Africa, like Percy Tau’s penalty against Mali or the horror miss from Khuliso Mudau right at the end of extra time in a gallant performance against Nigeria in the semifinal.

It will be good to see the celebrations when the team returns from Abidjan on Wednesday and the performance will hopefully provide a much-needed boost for the domestic game.

South Africans have not had much cause to enthuse over their football of late but now there is again a buzz about the team and the state of the game in general.

They are going to need that positive energy in their next major assignment, a World Cup qualifier at home to Nigeria in June.


It is the next competitive international for both countries and a crucial game in the qualifying group, where only the winner gets a place at the 2026 finals in North America.

It took Broos a long time to work out who his best players were. Some of the stars of the Ivory Coast expedition like Grant Kekana or Mudau were not even in his squad a few months back.

His initial policy of trying to build a new team with only youngsters was nonsense, even if loudly cheered at the time, and predictably failed. It is an old sporting maxim that ‘you don’t win anything with kids’.

If 34-year-old Themba Zwane is the ignition for the midfield engine, then he must play, not be sidelined as Broos first did because of his age.

It was a stupid idea, and it wasted an entire World Cup qualifying campaign.

Luckily, for the veteran Belgian coach, the dominance of Sundowns players handed him a readily made side. Maybe Rulani Mokoena should be the one hailed as the genius behind the bronze medal.

Now Broos must work on building a better bench. He selected lightweight attacking options for the Cup of Nations finals and that showed in the myriad of missed chances at the tournament. The likes of Bongi Hlongwane, Khanyisa Mayo or Iqraam Rayners were better options but not picked.