Penalties prince Ronwen carries Bafana to long-awaited Afcon medal
A closer analysis of Bafana Bafana’s run at this Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) will reveal a team with two contrasting sides — one capable of playing attractive football and the other with the knack of making things a little trickier than they should be.
South Africa ended their mostly impressive, but at times mixed bag Africa Cup of Nations with a 6-5 penalty shoot-out win over to Democratic Republic of the Congo to finish third for the first time in 24 years, since they beat Tunisia by spot-kicks in the bronze playoff in 2000.
A full time in which Bafana had opportunities but also again rode their luck, and where DRC missed the better chances, especially in the second half, ended 0-0.
Captain Ronwen Williams, the four-stop hero in the quarterfinal shoot-out against Cape Verde — but who could not replicate that display against Nigeria — sparkled again with two stunning saves to deny Chancel Mbemba and Meschack Lina.
Bafana's penalty scorers were Nkosinathi Sibisi, Thabang Monare, Aubrey Modiba, Zakhele Lepasa, Oswin Appollis and Siyanda Xulu after Teboho Mokoena hit the upright with the first kick.
During the week, Bafana coach Hugo Broos made it known that he is not in favour of this bronze medal match, and the game did not move into top gear, possibly because players’ minds were already on the plane home.
Bafana deserve credit for reaching an Afcon semifinal stage also for the first time in 24 years and claiming bronze. The 66th-ranked team in the world and 12th in Africa, who arrived in Ivory Coast missing big stars Lyle Foster and Lebo Mothiba and with barely a chance of a good run, ended the tournament with a more-than-decent record of four wins, two defeats and a draw.
They played some of their best football in the demolition of modest Namibia to settle in the tournament and they were strangely impressive in their defeats against Mali (2-0 in the group opener) and Nigeria (on penalties in the semifinal).
They made the continent sit up and take notice when they dumped overwhelming favourites Morocco out in the last 16.
Broos will be satisfied that players like Williams, Mothobi Mvala, Grant Kekana, Sphephelo Sithole, Mokoena, Themba Zwane and Evidence Makgopa covered themselves in glory.
Afcon is done and dusted for Bafana and Broos attention turns to World Cup qualifiers where Nigeria await in June. The Super Eagles' start of draws against Lesotho and Zimbabwe seems to present a real opportunity of reaching Mexico, Canada and US 2026.
Bafana start World Cup qualifiers with a win over Benin but they followed that up with a disappointing loss to Rwanda away from home in November. Broos's men will have to be at their best to beat Nigeria, who are in Nations Cup final against hosts Ivory Coast in Abidjan on Sunday (10pm SA time).
As Broos’ journey continues with Bafana, it remains to be seen if he is going to increasingly show faith in younger players like Terrence Mashego, Jayden Adams, Makgopa and Appollis, who made a bright substitutes' appearance in the bronze game.
There are other highly promising younger players like Lincoln Vyver, Ime Okon, Shandre Campbell and Relebohile Mofokeng who need senior international experience.
Going into this match, Broos made three forced changes with Sibisi coming in for suspended Kekana, Thapelo Morena replacing Mvala and Mihlali Mayambela in for Percy Tau, who did not have a good tournament by his usually high standards.
The core of the team remained with Williams between the sticks, Sibisi joining Siyanda Xulu in central defence; Mokoena, Sithole and Zwane continuing their partnership in the heart midfield and Makgopa the lone striker.
Broos’ starting line-up was once again dominated by Mamelodi Sundowns players in the form of Williams, Khuliso Mudau, Aubrey Modiba, Morena, Mokoena and Zwane.
Just before the hour-mark, Broos introduced Appollis for Makgopa to taste his first tournament action as he was the only remaining outfield player not to have played.
The most notable moment arrived after eight minutes when Williams was forced to move out of his area to thwart attacking Silas Katompa, who received a defence-splitting pass from the midfield.
DRC suffered an injury blow just after the half-hour when influential midfielder Theo Bongonda wobbled off the with what seemed a hamstring injury, replaced by Meshack Lina.
In the closing stages, DRC missed numerous scoring chances as Cedric Bakambu, Lina and Fiston Mayele looked for a late winner and the bronze medal, but it was not to be for the Central Africans.
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