AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS
Hugo Broos fancies Bafana’s Afcon odds despite numerous domestic speed humps
Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos is pleased with his team’s opponents for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations. The Belgian is once again less pleased with the hierarchy of the Premier Soccer League, insinuating it is sabotaging the national team.
In spite of some disruptions along the way, as well as some less than memorable moments in matches, Bafana Bafana’s preparations for what has become a rare Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) appearance are moving full steam ahead.
Preparations will also be bolstered by the fact that the South Africans now know the three teams they will face in the group phase of Afcon following the tournament draw conducted in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, one week ago.
The 1996 African champions were pitted against Tunisia, Mali and neighbours Namibia for the 34th edition of the event. It is a fair draw for the South Africans, with Tunisia being the group favourites.
Mali was once a force on the continent, boasting some of the best players on the continent who were also making their mark in European leagues. Players such as Seydou Keita, who donned the colours of Barcelona and Frédéric Kanouté, who netted many a goal for Sevilla.
However, in recent years their influence has waned significantly. Much like Bafana Bafana. The team that wins the clash between the South Africans and the Malians is likely to make it out of Group E, alongside the Tunisians.
“Mali is not really a big team at the moment. But it will be tough because they are [all] good teams. I am happy with the draw because it could have been worse,” Bafana boss Hugo Broos told the South African Football Association’s (Safa’s) media department in reaction to the draw for the January 2024 tournament.
“In Mali and Tunisia, we have good teams. But I prefer to have Tunisia and Mali, than to have Senegal or Ivory Coast. We know Namibia. So, [if] we can achieve our best level, we can get through to the group stages.”
A pair of stalemates
As part of their preparation for Afcon — in which they last appeared during the 2019 edition — Broos’ troops battled with neighbours Eswatini in a friendly which took place in Johannesburg on Friday, 13 October.
As has become commonplace for the national team to play in front of an extremely empty FNB Stadium. Though on that occasion, the team was so bad that even those watching from home might have dozed off from boredom during the bout which ended 0-0.
Broos certainly was not impressed with his team, feeling they underestimated their opponents on the day.
“There was no passion. We lost nearly every duel. We played far from our opponents and we were lucky they didn’t score. Because that could have been a disaster,” the bemused Belgian shared after that game.
A few days later, they travelled to Ivory Coast to clash with the tournament hosts of next year’s continental showpiece. That match took place on Tuesday, 17 October. It ended in another draw for South Africa. This time one-all against the Elephants.
However, Broos would have been much more pleased with the zeal displayed by his charges this time around.
Maybe it was the motivation of playing in front of an almost-capacity crowd at Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium. Even if it was all Ivorians. Or knowing that if they did not bring their A-game, the home side would wipe the floor with them.
Whatever it was, Bafana played exceptionally well and were unfortunate not to add more goals to Themba Zwane’s ninth-minute opener, before the Elephants stampeded back to equalise through Borussia Dortmund striker Sébastien Haller midday through the second half.
“As angry as I was on Friday [against Eswatini], I am equally as pleased today. South Africa played a very good game, against a very good team. There was a good mentality on the pitch,” Broos told Safa’s media department after the stalemate.
As well as serving as a platform for Broos to tinker with combinations ahead of Afcon, this pair of friendly encounters was meant to sharpen Bafana Bafana for the start of their 2026 World Cup qualification campaign in November.
The South Africans are grouped with Nigeria, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Benin. They will face the latter two in mid-November to kick off their campaign as they reach the World Cup for the first time since hosting it in 2010.
Broos stated that even though the door is not closed to any player, the cohort he selects for those two clashes next month will likely be the same that he takes to Ivory Coast in early 2024.
“If all players are available next month [for the World Cup qualifiers], we will have a core of players that won’t change so much for Afcon,” Broos told journalists during a press conference prior to the clash with Eswatini.
The withdrawals of players that Broos was keen to observe during these games did curtail his plans somewhat. Around six players that he had originally called up pulled out of the camp, with one of these being Percy Tau. He cited personal reasons for declining the call-up.
All this has left Bafana’s Belgian boss extremely frustrated. A request to the Premier Soccer League (PSL) to halt action a week earlier than scheduled in December, in order to allow the players enough time to camp before Afcon’s 13 January start has also been ignored. To the irritation of Broos.
“The preparation is not running like we hoped it would. But it can happen [that players get injured],” Broos told journalists last week.
“There are still PSL games. And Champions League games. The PSL is going on until 3o December. Which I don’t like. We asked that they don’t do that. But they did it anyway. So, we’ll see. Let’s hope we don’t have three or four people that can’t come with us to the Afcon,” said the 71-year-old. DM