South Africa

OPINION: Master-planning gives Bafana a chance to clip Super Eagles’ wings

Hugo Broos Bafana Bafana Opinion AFCON

Bafana Bafana have given us reason to be proud again, whatever happens in tomorrow’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) semifinal against the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

This is as inescapable as how bad the South African senior men’s national team has been for much of the last 20 years and more, charting a tragic descent from African Champions in packed stadiums at home in 1996 to also-rans who often don’t even qualify for the Afcon, let alone make their mark at the highest continental stage.

Hugo Broos’ Bafana were given little chance of doing anything remarkable heading into this Afcon, a side made up of mainly locally-based players, a decent bet to make it to the last-16, but nothing more.

Instead, they stand two games away from the crown, having humbled Africa’s No 1 side Morocco in the last-16, and having found a way past Cape Verde in the quarterfinals.

Missing the point

Critics of Bafana’s display on Saturday miss the point of major tournaments. Luckily Broos hasn’t missed it, repeatedly saying he doesn’t care how his side play, as long as they progress.

For so long there has been talk of a Bafana style of play, a magical kind of tiki-taka that needs to be re-discovered for the side to do well. But it is actually in embracing pragmatism, in being prepared to hoof the ball forward and fight head-to-head with their opponents after the opening bruising defeat to Mali, that Bafana have found a way into the semifinals.

Bafana have definitely benefitted from having a coach who has won this competition before, with Cameroon back in 2017. Broos knows all about what it takes to get through a tournament like this, and has to take immense credit for building a team, as opposed to a group of individuals.

This Bafana side is prepared to put their bodies on the line at the back like few I have seen before.
Broos has had his run-ins with Mamelodi Sundowns in his time as head coach. But this has not stopped him turning to a core of Sundowns players, a clever move when you have so little time to build a cohesive unit as an international manager.

These players know how to perform on the continent, and have managed to step up a level to compete with an abundance of overseas-based stars in the Ivory Coast.

Rownen William was already an outstanding penalty-kick specialist, but to do what he did on Saturday, saving four penalties in a shoot-out, was literally exceptional. It has never been done before at an Afcon and was also testament to the analysis done by Bafana of the opposition.

This scouting ability has been brilliant throughout Afcon and means that while Nigeria, like Morocco, have better players than Bafana on paper, there is no guarantee the Super Eagles will not be out-smarted.

Bafana will certainly have a plan, which is already more than can be said of some really poor incarnations of the national team over the years.