Hail hero Ronwen! Four penalty stops put Bafana in first Afcon semi in 24 years
Ronwen Williams spectacularly saved four spot-kicks — an almost unheard of feat — in a penalty shoot-out that Bafana Bafana won 2-1 against Cape Verde to steer the South Africans to their first Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) semifinal in 24 years on Saturday night.
Earlier Bafana's captain became just the second goalkeeper after Andre Arendse in 1996 to keep four successive clean sheets at a Nations Cup finals, including a match-winning save onto the woodwork in stoppage time of full time.
Williams' regulation time stops were crucial as South Africa rode their luck in a quarterfinal that ended 0-0 at Stade Charles Konan Banny in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast after full and extra time but was dominated by the islanders, who spurned countless chances.
Ranked 66th in the world and 14th in Africa, Bafana arrived in Ivory Coast without European-based Lyle Foster (mental health issues) and Lebo Mothiba (injury) as virtual no-hopers.
Apart from the Williams' brilliance, it was not memorable match from Bafana in terms of performance as they were often ragged in defence and battled for passing fluency. But it certainly was in terms of the sheer grit the South Africans displayed.
Coach Hugo Broos and his men will be over the moon at the result, and feel that their shock of Africa's top-ranked team and the 2022 World Cup semifinalists Morocco in the last 16 and tough win against in-form Cape Verde makes them worthy semifinalists.
The South Africans meet nemesis Nigeria in their last four match at Stade de la Paix in Bouaké on Wednesday (7pm SA time). Ivory Coast meet Democratic Republic of Congo in Abidjan at 10pm. The final is on Sunday.
The two teams came out landing cautious blows at both ends. Cape Verde found a rhythm in the last 15 minutes of the opening half plus six minutes of added time.
Cape Verde had 60% of possession in the first half and four corners to zero, one of which Kevin Pina got a feint header to early on.
From a solid early attacking move Bafana winger Thapelo Morena teed up Teboho Mokoena for a strong curling shot into the arms of goalkeeper Vózinha.
The islanders might have taken a lead if the ball bounced their way in the passage before the break.
Ryan Mendes hit a swerving cross from the right with pace that skimmed the head of Pina. Bafana half-cleared and midfielder Kenny Rocha volleyed low past the right upright.
Jamiro Monteiro squared across the face for the late run of Mendes, who perhaps should have shot first time but attempted to make space and found the leg of Maphosa Modiba when Williams would have been beaten.
Back from the break, Cape Verde ran the South African defence ragged at times.
South Africa simultaneously got their attack functioning more sharply. In the resultant end-to-end play, the islanders produced the clearer chances, but Bafana looked like they could grab a goal, and crucially showed fight.
A dangerous ball in towards danger left wing Garry Rodrigues forced a timely intercept from Williams.
Evidence Makgopa was played into space on the right to shoot tamely at Vózinha from a tight angle.
With the last 10 minutes approaching Rocha teased Modiba on the right and crossed to find Jovane Cabral free in the middle to volley a foot over when he should have hit the target.
The islanders must have really doubted the strength of their Juju when they struck the woodwork minutes into added time, substitute Gilson Benchimol through one on one with Williams to hit a rocket, the keeper getting a touch and the crossbar rocked.
Bafana began extra time with a huge double chance. Makgopa headed a long ball into the path of Mihlali Mayambela, on for Themba Zwane moments earlier, who volleyed point blank at Vózinha. The ball was chipped back in and Makgopa, charging in again, headed downward, the ball bouncing over the bar.
Cape Verde, and Benchimol, spurned more chances, but it was not their night in front of goal.
In the shoot-out Cape Verde's first three shots from Bebé, Willy Semedo and Laros Duarte were magnificently stopped by Williams to hand Bafana the clear advantage.
Teboho Mokoena scored South Africa's first, then Zakhele Lepasa blasted over and Modiba's kick was saved by Vózinha.
Bryan Teixeira scored for Cape Verde — the only time Williams was beaten — to make it 1-1.
Then the Bafana keeper spectacularly saved again from Patrick Andrade and the South Africans' extraordinarily long Afcon semifinal drought was over in Hollywood scriptwriters' dramatic fashion.