Bafana Bafana summon winning spirit of Clive Barker versus Morocco
South Africa’s senior men’s side dished up a convincing performance to defeat Morocco in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. The win showed the progress made by Hugo Broos and his charges in recent months.
With South Africa still stung by the death of former Bafana Bafana coach Clive Barker a week ago, the current crop of players in the team paid tribute to the late tactician by beating Morocco 2–1 in an Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier on Saturday.
Barker – who fathered a Bafana Bafana team that reached heights that subsequent generations are yet to even come close to emulating – succumbed to illness on Saturday, 10 June.
The current batch of Bafana players tapped into the winner’s spirit of the 1996 Afcon-winning coach to secure a sensational and morale-boosting victory over the Atlas Lions at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
An own goal by second-choice Moroccan glovesman Munir Mohamedi early in the first half, as well as an early second-half strike by forward Zakhele Lepasa (which saw him unleash Barker’s trademark soaring celebration) did the damage for the South Africans. Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech netted the sole goal for the visitors on the hour mark.
However, with the South Africans spurred on by the memory of Barker and a healthy crowd of more than 50,000 spectators, they were destined to be the winners on the night. They fulfilled that destiny to full effect.
“We deserved to win the game. See the chances we had. But I’m happier about the performance,” Bafana boss Hugo Broos told journalists after the match.
“We played against a very good team. A very good team. We were never dominated. Never. On the contrary, we sometimes dominated that team.”
Both nations had already sealed their spots at the continental showpiece – which takes place in Ivory Coast from January 2o24. So, the match was in essence an exhibition and opportunity for Bafana to gauge the strides made since Broos took over the team in mid-2021.
“I said before the game that the result is not important, but I would like to see a good performance. I would like to see the progression we have made in the last few months,” Broos stated.
“I hope that you’ll agree [that during this game] we saw a team that has made enormous progression in the last months.”
Following this victory, South Africa is now perched at the summit of Group K, with seven points to second-placed Morocco’s six.
Though Bafana’s campaign is officially over, the Atlas Lions will have an opportunity to leapfrog them when they take on Liberia in their final fixture of the Afcon qualification phase in September.
Bafana sealed this rare Afcon qualification the hard way, though external circumstances had made it a bit easier for them.
Zimbabwe – which was the fourth nation in Group K – was booted from the qualifiers due to government interference with the national soccer association.
With Morocco the undisputed favourites in the group, it meant South Africa just had to beat minnows Liberia to qualify. They played the double header against the West Africans in March. They were held to a stalemate on home soil, before grinding out an important win in the reverse fixture.
Broos has often been chastised and questioned for some selections during his tenure. However, stubborn and resilient, he has stuck to his guns – despite that external criticism.
On the back of his team’s performance against Africa’s top-ranked side, Broos hinted that this group of players had vindicated him and his decisions.
“I’m happy that I’ve gone on to give confidence to this group of players. I’ve believed in them, even when some people didn’t believe in them, [saying] I made bad choices. [Saying] that I didn’t understand the South African culture,” Broos told journalists.
“But you see, you don’t build a team in one day. You need time. In that time defeat can be very useful. We had defeats. But we learnt a lot from them. Today you see a team that plays good football, a team that creates a lot of chances.”
Prior to the match, Broos suggested that he had found his core group of players as Bafana work towards making a splash at next year’s Afcon, and beyond. However, he also hinted that the door was not closed to anyone until then.
The players still hoping to force their way into the team will have seen the level to which they have to raise their quality in order to achieve this. Of course, such healthy competition can only bode well for the side. DM