AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS
Brave Bafana win Afcon battle for bronze as goalkeeper Ronwen Williams saves the day
Bafana Bafana beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 6-5 on penalties to claim their second bronze medal at the Africa Cup of Nations. Ronwen Williams was the hero once again.
In a match that was a decent appetiser for the final of what has been an enthralling Africa Cup of Nations, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo could not be separated as their third-place playoff ended 0-0 at the Félix Houphouët Boigny in Abidjan on Saturday.
The battle for bronze ultimately went to penalties, straight after the 90 minutes with no extra time being played. Bafana Bafana emerged 6-5 winners, thanks to more penalty-saving heroics from goalkeeper Ronwen Williams. The skipper made two saves during the shootout to help South Africa clinch its second bronze medal at Afcon.
The encounter was entertaining, with the only thing missing from the beautiful sequences of play being goals. Both Bafana Bafana and the Leopards were guilty of overly intricate play in the final third. Each country’s players seemed intent on shepherding the ball into the net instead of taking a shot.
Though the defences of each team also stood resolute when called upon, quelling the respective attacks as the opening goal remained elusive.
However, as the clock ticked on, it was DR Congo that looked more likely to score. If only the central African nation was not so wasteful on the occasions they breached the Bafana Bafana backline.
The South Africans looked increasingly jaded, with two instances of playing over 120 minutes of football catching up to Hugo Broos’ men. Their quarterfinal win against Cape Verde was decided on penalties after overtime, as was their semifinal loss to Nigeria. This seemed to have taken its on toll on the South African men.
So, it was probably to their benefit that the bronze match does not feature extra time. Instead, the action went straight to spotkicks, saving the tiring Bafana Bafana from another 30 minutes of being stretched by the Leopards.
After midfielder Teboho Mokoena had missed the opening spotkick for South Africa, his teammates were clinical. Then Williams made a save. And another. Sealing the win for South Africa.
South Africa was one of the surprises of the Ivory Coast-hosted tournament. As a result, team coach Broos confirmed that there had already been enquiries for some of the players who had impressed throughout Bafana Bafana’s run to a first Afcon semifinal in 24 years.
Broos did not name the players who had garnered attention. However, players such as Mokoena, skipper-goalkeeper Williams and Themba Zwane had exceptional individual campaigns, though age may be a hindrance for the latter two, who are both over 30.
Mokoena’s partner in the midfield, Sphephelo Sithole, is already based in Europe. He currently dons the colours of Portuguese second division outfit CD Tondela. The club may struggle to keep hold of the 24-year-old after his powerful displays in Ivory Coast.
“I’m very happy that we’ve played an Afcon like this and that we also showed that South Africa has good players. Even European teams are interested [in our players now],” Broos said prior to the battle for bronze.
“That means that we did very well and those players showed that they can play at a higher level than what the championship is in South Africa,” stated the 71-year-old Belgian.
“We are a good team now. So, that means we don’t need to have fear any more when we are playing big African countries. We are good and we have to believe in that.”
Certainly, the South Africans walk away from this tournament a completely different side to the one that entered it one month ago. They are a team oozing self-belief. A team with personality. More importantly, they have a wonderful foundation to build on ahead of the next edition of Afcon in 2025, as well as the Fifa World Cup in 2026. DM