Sport

FIFA SERIES

Ageing string puller Themba Zwane outshines Bafana Bafana hopefuls in Algeria thriller

Ageing string puller Themba Zwane outshines Bafana Bafana hopefuls in Algeria thriller
Nabil Bentaleb of Algeria and Bafana's Themba Zwane compete for the ball during their clash in Algiers. (Photo: Richard Pelham / Fifa via Getty Images)

Bafana Bafana wrapped up their international friendly window with a 3-3 draw against Algeria, with Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Themba Zwane scoring a brace.

Themba Zwane once again proved his importance to the South African football community when he scored a brace as Bafana Bafana drew 3-3 with 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) champions Algeria.

Zwane was one of the players from the Sundowns contingent who could not feature during Bafana Bafana’s disappointing one-all draw against European minnows Andorra a few days ago.

Due to club commitments the Masandawana stars only travelled to Algeria a day after the rest of the team had arrived there for the Fifa Series fixtures. As a result they could not feature from the start against Andorra.

Against Algeria, Broos had a full complement of players to call upon, including reliable soldiers such as Zwane, midfield magician Teboho Mokoena, skipper Ronwen Williams and defensive rock Grant Kekana.

Zwane show

It was Zwane who shone the brightest as South Africa exchanged blows with the Desert Foxes at Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers.

The Foxes drew first blood through Yassine Benzia halfway through the first half. The visitors stormed back and equalised through Zwane in the 34th minute following a cross from Mihlali Mayambela. Then Zwane weaved his magic to place South Africa into the lead seconds before the halftime break.

Bafana Algeria

Algeria’s Yassine Benzia scores despite Ronwen Williams’s best efforts during their Fifa Series clash at Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers. (Photo: Richard Pelham – Fifa via Getty Images)

Algeria clawed their way back once more in front of a passionate and raucous crowd. However, Stellenbosch striker Iqraam Rayners restored South Africa’s advantage. They could not sustain this though as the Foxes bit back one last time, via Benzia.

Bafana’s Belgian mentor Hugo Broos expressed his pleasure with the overall display of his team, as well as some newcomers who seized the opportunity to impress him during these two international friendlies.

“The team has confidence. That’s also what I saw at Afcon. It is not only a team on the pitch, but also outside of the pitch. This is very important,” he said.

“We have 23 players. There are only 11 who can play, but you also see those guys on the bench are really supportive of those who are on the pitch. This is a good thing. When you see that as a coach, you can only be happy.

“They showed it also on the pitch, they showed that they are a team. Everybody does their job. They want to win the game and the mentality is good… That means we have made a lot of progress.”

Though the 71-year-old was not keen to single out individuals who had impressed him from the newcomers during this camp, one player who definitely put up his hand was Elias Mokwana.

The 24-year-old Sekhukhune United midfielder scored on debut versus Andorra. Against Algeria he came off the bench to assist Rayners for the third Bafana Bafana goal.

Bafana Broos

A pensive Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos during the 3-3 draw against Algeria in Algiers. (Photo: Richard Pelham – Fifa via Getty Images)

“Without saying names, there were players who convinced me. I think they will be there again in June [for the World Cup qualifiers],” Broos said.

“There were others who didn’t disappoint me, but for them it was a bit too early. This is normal for younger players. You bring them and certainly, on this level, you see that maybe it’s a bit too early. But we will watch them,” he added.

One player who has nothing more to prove to Broos is Zwane. His fancy footwork and deft touches regularly unlock stubborn defences. As he showed against Algeria, he also has an eye for goal.

The challenge for Broos now is finding someone in the mould of Zwane over the next couple of years. By the time the next World Cup comes around in 2026 Zwane will be 37.

Given how he has taken care of himself throughout his stellar career, the Sundowns playmaker may still be active and just as impressive as he is now. However, the odds are against this.

Hence Broos has made it his mission to find someone who can offer South Africa similar qualities to Zwane, even if that player cannot replicate Zwane’s generational abilities. DM

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