Zungu stands tall in Egypt’s shock defeat

Bongani Zungu, of South Africa, is challenged by Abdallah Said, left, and Tarek Hamed, of Egypt, during their Africa Cup of Nations last-16 soccer clash in Cairo on Saturday
Bongani Zungu, of South Africa, is challenged by Abdallah Said, left, and Tarek Hamed, of Egypt, during their Africa Cup of Nations last-16 soccer clash in Cairo on Saturday
Image: AHMED HASAN/GALLO IMAGES

When Bafana Bafana needed a performer with pedigree and class to stand up to the threat of Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Trezeguet (Mahmoud Hassan)‚ Bongani Zungu answered that call in SA’s 1-0 Africa Cup of Nations shock victory against the hosts in Cairo on Saturday.

There were so many outstanding performances on the night – as Bafana silenced the 75‚000 crowd at the Cairo International Stadium and shocked Africa by eliminating the feared hosts – that picking out any one player would seem unfair. Goalkeeper Ronwen Williams‚ 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 to add an attacking dimension to the team and‚ of course‚ the man who scored the 85th-minute winner, all are deserving of plaudits.

But Zungu‚ playing just in front of Furman and Kamohelo Mokotjo in a midfield three that laid the platform for victory‚ was immense in closing spaces and winning the ball high up the field and looking for the probing pass.

He showed all the class of a player who has earned rave reviews in Ligue 1 for Amiens SC in France.

“Credit must go to the guys. We showed character‚ we showed hunger‚ and we had our game plan 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 we tried our best.

“And I feel like we deserved to win 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. And I tried my best to motivate the players.

“Hopefully we carry on from here,” he said.

Bafana were unconvincing in the group stage‚ where their attack failed.

Baxter was infuriatingly conservative then.

But‚ even then‚ those paying attention could see an excellent structure.

With nothing to lose against Egypt‚ Baxter set his attackers free. The results were startling.

“The coach told us to keep a level head,” Zungu said.

“And he told us to go out there and enjoy on and off the ball.

“And‚ yeah man‚ we motivated each other. At halftime he told us to carry on. And that was a brilliant performance.

“I felt like everyone gave their all.

“Because our game-plan was to stop them from giving the ball to Trezeguet and Salah. “So‚ we are very happy.” SA meet nemesis Nigeria at the Cairo International Stadium 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 will not be an easy game on Wednesday.

But‚ confidence sky-rocketing‚ SA will look for another big performance.

X