BATTLE FOR BRONZE
Bafana Bafana aiming to finish thrilling Afcon run on a high note against determined DRC
South Africa can bounce back from their narrow defeat to Nigeria in the semifinals of the Africa Cup of Nations by clinching a consolatory bronze medal. They face a determined Democratic Republic of Congo team in this quest.
Bafana Bafana’s unlikely dream of winning the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) may have been dashed by their 4-2 penalty loss to Nigeria. Nevertheless, the team can still claim a piece of history by clinching a bronze medal on Saturday night, when they tackle the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Congolese, who are two-time African champions, were pipped 1-0 by host nation Ivory Coast in their semifinal. Against Bafana Bafana the Leopards have an opportunity to leap to a third bronze medal at Afcon.
The South Africans are eager to ride the momentum of their magical run in Ivory Coast and conclude the tournament on a high, and with just a fourth-ever medal in Afcon. They currently boast a collection of one gold, a silver and a bronze. Which all came in three consecutive tournaments between 1996 and 2000.
“This is what I’ve been crying for in the last year or so. For the public to get behind the team,” Bafana Bafana captain Ronwen Williams told the media department of the South African Football Association (Safa) ahead of their final Afcon match.
“But in saying that, it’s all about the results. And we got the results [by reaching this stage of the tournament],” added Williams.
“Hopefully this can be a relationship that we can build as a country, together. To know that it’s possible, we need their support. We need them to fill up the stadiums. [We need] their words of encouragement.”
When the tournament began, not many would have backed Bafana Bafana to play all their possible games at Afcon. However, when they walk onto the pitch against the Congolese, they will make this a reality. Though Williams says the team is disappointed by so narrowly missing out on the final.
“The team deserved to be in the final. But for us now [we must] recover, go out there on Saturday and finish on a positive note,” the Mamelodi Sundowns goalminder stated.
“We have done extremely well at this tournament. The cherry on top would be finishing with the bronze medal.”
Midfield destroyer Sphephelo Sithole — who is one of many Bafana Bafana players that had an exceptional tournament — echoed his skipper’s feelings that they deserved a better output from their input in the last two years, as well as during this edition of Afcon.
Sithole also told Safa’s media department that despite the disappointment of Ivory Coast, they firmly believe that they can deliver a second Afcon to South Africa. The next opportunity will be in Morocco, during the 2025 edition.
“We did well as a team. We deserved more. Especially from what we have shown [throughout this tournament]. We need to take it from there and probably in the future, we will give the country what it deserves,” Sithole stated.
“We have brought back the love of football in our country. From now on, we have to take it upwards and build on this. We have shown that we are capable of beating anyone in this tournament.”
Leopards on the prowl
The Leopards will be a tough test for the South Africans. Having failed to qualify for 2021 Afcon in Cameroon, DR Congo bounced back to reach this edition.
Hence, just as is the case with Bafana Bafana, their presence at this stage of the tournament is a surprise. However, unlike the South Africans’ 24-year semifinal drought prior to 2024, the Congolese were in the last four in 2015. They secured bronze by beating that year’s host country, Equatorial Guinea, 4-2 on penalties.
So, for the Leopards, their foray to this stage of the tournament has been bigger than just football. It’s been about flagging the atrocities faced by innocent Congolese on a daily basis — as evidenced during their semifinal loss to Ivory Coast.
Prior to the match against the Elephants, the team chose to forgo the traditional national singing. Instead, everyone held two fingers to their temples and covered their mouths with the other hand. In an effort to flag the increasingly dire situation in the country.
“It was a message to show support to the victims. To notify [people] that there are indeed things happening in the east and that it is necessary to shed light on it,” DR Congo coach Sébastien Desabre told ESPN after their semifinal defeat.
As such, Bafana Bafana will come up against an extremely motivated team. Though the South Africans themselves will be playing for a bigger cause. Success in sport has increasingly become a crutch for citizens that are watching the country erode year after year.
The third-place Afcon playoff between South Africa and DR Congo takes place on Saturday, 10 February. Kick-off is at 10pm SA time.
The final between Ivory Coast and Nigeria is a day later, with the match once again starting at 10pm. DM