AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS
Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos proud despite semifinal loss to Nigeria
South Africa came into the Africa Cup of Nations with minimal expectations. They put up a great fight to reach their first semifinal in 24 years. In spite of losing their last-four encounter against Nigeria, there’s still an opportunity to claim just their fourth medal at the tournament.
Bafana Bafana could have easily lain down and let a star-studded Nigerian team trample all over them on Wednesday night. However, the South Africans fought valiantly up until the last minute of their first Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) semifinal in 24 years.
They were only vanquished via penalties after the two teams could not be separated following 120 minutes of fierce fighting, with the match ending 1-1. This time there would be no heroics from Bafana Bafana captain Ronwen Williams as the Super Eagles soared to the final with a 4-2 penalty victory.
Hosts Ivory Coast await the Nigerians in Sunday’s final after they edged the Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 in the second semifinal, thanks to a goal by Sébastien Haller.
As for Bafana Bafana… They have an opportunity to add one more exclamation mark to their magical run in Ivory Coast — a run characterised by grit, tenacity and JoJo tank-sized self-belief.
Broos beams with pride
In spite of his team’s narrow defeat to the Super Eagles, coach Hugo Broos says he could not be prouder of the team’s overall display throughout the tournament. Especially since they came into the showpiece with no one giving them a chance of making any significant impact.
The expectation was that Broos and his men would be also-rans. Only a select few football followers can genuinely say they believed in the abilities of the team. But Bafana proved the naysayers wrong.
“Football can be hard. When you see the performance of my team [against the Nigerians]… And then there are penalties. And you lose the game and you’re not in the final; it’s hard to accept that. Because we played a very good game,” Broos told journalists afterwards.
“We were the best team in the first half. We had the best chances. Nigeria didn’t have one chance. Nothing. In the second half, they had a few chances and scored,” Broos continued.
“Then we changed some things tactically and we came back. Then two minutes before the end of the 90 minutes, we had three more chances. If we could score there, it would be us going to the final and not Nigeria,” said the 71-year-old Belgian.
“But that can happen in football. [Even though] it’s a big disappointment for everyone, because we feel that we played a very good game. Not only today. We played a very good Afcon. I’m very, very proud of it. I’m proud of my players.”
A change in fortunes
The Bafana Bafana coach also pointed out the unpredictable nature of football. In the quarterfinals against Cape Verde, the team’s overall display was poor. By Broos’s own admission.
Nevertheless, when the game went to penalties, they were able to pull through, thanks largely to an exceptional individual display by skipper Williams.
Against Nigeria, they created a multitude of chances, which they failed to bury. This was detrimental, but they might have had some redemption via penalties.
“We played a very bad game against Cape Verde, and we won with penalties. [Against Nigeria] we played a very good game, and we lost on penalties,” Broos said.
“That’s also football. But again, we have only to think about the way we played this Afcon. Everyone knows South Africa as a good team [again now]. That is the most important thing.”
Nigeria’s Portuguese coach, José Peseiro, also showered the South Africans with praise, especially Broos. Though he maintained that Nigeria deserve to be in the final.
“The players deserve to be in the finals. It’s a very good victory against a good team. I said it earlier that South Africa has the best organisation,” Peseiro said after the game.
“They play together. They created more problems for us. It was very difficult to beat them. Huge congratulations to Hugo Broos, who put this team together. They played well.”
Bafana Bafana’s battle for bronze against the Democratic Republic of Congo takes place on Saturday, 10 February. Kick-off is at 10pm. DM