Sport

UNSUNG HEROES

Shooting stars that have fuelled Bafana’s impressive Afcon run — from Mokoena to Mothwa

Shooting stars that have fuelled Bafana’s impressive Afcon run — from Mokoena to Mothwa
Teboho Mokoena of Bafana Bafana celebrates scoring against Morocco during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations. (Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix)

South Africa’s Africa Cup of Nations run has been characterised by grit, tenacity and a great deal of teamwork. However, some players have truly risen to the occasion.

Bafana Bafana’s technical team — headed by Belgian coach Hugo Broos — has not tinkered much with the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) quarterfinalists’ starting 11. It is likely to stay that way against Cape Verde on Saturday night.

This consistency in team selection has created a side that fights for each other on the pitch. Lifting each other’s spirits and playing almost telepathically. Bafana Bafana’s foray into the knockout rounds of the 34th edition of African football’s crown jewel has been characterised by grit, guile and the pursuit of a common goal.

As such, it is tough to single out individuals for praise. This Bafana squad is built on teamwork and the motto of dying for each other on the field of play.

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa secure emphatic win over neighbours Namibia at Cup of Nations

Even the players on the bench, who have lacked game time at the Ivory Coast-hosted showpiece, have pulled their weight. Cheering and willing their teammates on in moments when they’ve found themselves in challenging situations.

“We have players like Themba Zwane, who has been player of the match two times [at this Afcon],” said Broos after his team eliminated Morocco’s Atlas Lions with a 2-0 win in the round of 16.

“[Against Morocco] it was Teboho [who won player of the match]. That means that we are playing well as a team, but we also have some players who can make a difference. This is important,” the 71-year-old added.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bafana put on magnificent team display to eliminate Morocco from Afcon

Broos’s orchestra has been harmonious. But some players’ individual brilliance has shone brighter than their teammates’. Daily Mavericks picks five individuals who have been particularly instrumental to Bafana’s Afcon success to date. Players that will be key to South Africa’s ambition of claiming a second Afcon title.

Themba Zwane, Afcon

Themba Zwane of Bafana Bafana (left). (Photo: ©Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix)

Themba Zwane – Midfielder

Four matches. Two player of the match awards. Themba Zwane is having a lovely time in Ivory Coast. He scored a brace when Bafana Bafana ran riot and routed Namibia 4-0. He set up Evidence Makgopa’s goal as Bafana ended Morocco’s Afcon hopes.

Ironically, when Broos took over Bafana Bafana in 2021 he vowed to do away with players who were 30 years or older, saying South Africa’s squad was too old. That meant Zwane — despite consistent brilliance at his club Mamelodi Sundowns — was constantly overlooked by Broos.

The 34-year-old, who had been a regular for Bafana up until the Belgian coach arrived, kept his head and continued to work hard. Now he is one of the first names on Broos’s team sheet. The chief string-puller.

The coach was forced to admit his mistake and brought the player back in late 2022, after almost a year out in the cold. He duly scored a brace to mark his return. Now he and Broos are inseparable.

“We know; I said it already several times… When Themba plays well, the team plays well,” Broos said recently of Zwane.

Sphephelo Sithole

Sphephelo Sithole of Bafana Bafana. (Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix)

Teboho Mokoena and Sphephelo Sithole – Midfielders

A dynamic midfield duo. If Zwane is the heart of Bafana Bafana, Teboho Mokoena and Spehephelo Sithole are the lungs. They also have a pair of healthy lungs themselves. They need them for all the tireless work they do in the middle of the park.

Teboho Mokoena, Afcon

Teboho Mokoena of South Africa. (Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix)

The pair complement each other well, with Sithole (who plays for Portuguese second-tier side CD Tondela) always willing to do the dirty work. Not that Mokoena shuns it when the opportunity presents itself.

‘Yaya,’ as Sithole is affectionately known, cleans up so that Mokoena can have the freedom to thread a dangerous ball forward. Or make a lung-busting sprint into opposition territory. As seen against Morocco, Sundowns star Mokoena is also a set-piece specialist.

Mothobi Mvala, Afcon

Mothobi Mvala of Bafana Bafana. (Photo: Weam Mostafa/BackpagePix)

Mothobi Mvala – Defender

Another Sundowns player, Mothobi Mvala is not quite as flashy and crafty as Mokoena. The defensive midfielder-turned-centre back is tougher than a bison though. A bandaged head, which is usually a result of him never pulling out of a challenge, has become his signature over the years.

The 29-year-old has been vital as Bafana Bafana have kept three clean sheets — during that drubbing of Namibia, in a nil-all draw against Tunisia and in that famous win over Morocco. Each time he has put his body on the line to protect his team’s goal.

Veli Mothwa, Afcon

Veli Mothwa of AmaZulu FC. (Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images)

Veli Mothwa – Goalkeeper

The AmaZulu goalkeeper has not played a single game at Afcon so far, with Ronwen Williams hogging the gloves via his own sensational performances.

However, Mothwa has been an exceptional team player. He is the first one to run onto the pitch to celebrate with his teammates and is always at the forefront of the team’s dancing, singing and cracking jokes.

Mothwa’s contribution is just as vital as those who have shone on the pitch. DM

Bafana Bafana take on Cape Verde on Saturday, 3 February. Kickoff is at 10pm.   

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bonga Siyothula says:

    …didn’t even watch the game against Morocco as I was sure we were going out as usual after a proper drubbing….the following morning I was pleasantly shocked to learn that lo and behold we had pulled a rabbit out of a hat and sent Morocco packing…It was particularly sweet against a Country that openly and disdainfully does not regard itself as “African”…keep up the good work boys, long may it continue!

  • James Baxter says:

    I am thoroughly impressed by our boys yesterday. I must admit that Cabo Verde had beautiful fans but beauty alone is not going to cut it in the blazing heat of the African sun. What you need is that never say die attitude. I am reminded of our Bok captain, the one and only Siya when he said of the All Black performance in the final that they( all blacks) took us into a dark place. A place so dark you can only see a sea of black shirts coming at you like a cold air descending from the depths of the Antarctic cold snap. When this air reaches you, it freezes your blood and you cease to move and like a frozen ice cream you remain motionless. Bafana Bafana took Cabo Verde yesterday into a dark place and I could see those beautiful Cabo Verde fans wondering when will the journey into this dark place will end, but our boys remained resolute as they matched they matched like a Spartan regiment into the belly of the Persian beast. And in that decisive moment they like Spartacus, the Spartan regiment leader charged forward fearless and looked the Persian dragon into the eye as he pierced that etetnal beast with his short spear deep into its scaly bossom.

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