Bafana Bafana was on the brink of a place in the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations. If anyone had said that to me a year ago, I would not have believed them.
This was the team which looked toothless, without ideas and incapable of stringing results together. Even though I have always tried to steer clear of the negativity surrounding the national side, I could not escape feeling slightly perturbed by our inability to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and the farcical scenes in Nelspruit. I have never felt so ashamed of a South African sporting unit. But now I have never felt so excited by the potential of our football side.
Africa Cup of Nations results and fixtures
||Ghana 2 -2 DR Congo
Mali 1-0 Niger
||Ghana 1-0 Mali
DR Congo 0-0 Niger
||Cape Verde 2-1 Angola|
||Niger 0-3 Ghana|
||Ghana 2-0 Cape Verde
South Africa may not have accomplished the feat everyone in South Africa hoped for, but they played with commitment, skill and tenacity against a Mali side ranked sixty places above them in the world standings. Gordon Igesund has turned a side which was incapable of scoring goals into a potent unit, which is beginning to understand how to best utilise its talent.
The first half performance by Bafana Bafana sparked cries of “Barcelona football!” from the fans around me watching the game. The side was passing the ball with confidence, controlling the game and showing South Africa what they are capable of executing. The short passing game, coupled with the deadly pace of our attacking quartet almost turned a composed Mali side inside out in the opening 45.
Expectations soared around me, with the seemingly unattainable semi-final berth within our grasp after Tokelo Rantie’s opening goal. Mali’s equaliser was a dampener, but the team did not cave in under the pressure as their opponents began to find more purchase in the game. Instead they continued to push forward and defend well, displaying everything Gordon Igesund stated about the side after the game: Passion, dignity and pride.
The penalty shootout was tragic to say the least, but Mali’s Soumbeyla Diakite was brilliant in goal, inspiring his troubled nation into the semi-finals. Shocked, disappointed fans exited the viewing area, but there was no outcry of change or rage about Bafana Bafana’s exit.
Instead there is a newfound hope about the side’s capabilities and Gordon Igesund’s obvious influence on the team. “He is the coach who will take us to the 2014 World Cup,” I heard a fan say during the match.
Earlier, Ghana was able to overcome Cape Verde in Port Elizabeth. The story of the tournament was cut short, but not without controversy, drama and one of the most entertaining matches of the 2013 Afcon.
After Ghana’s dubious penalty, rifled in by Mubarak Wakaso, the Islanders took the match to their superior opponents in a remarkable display of attacking football, forcing Fatau Dauda into some of the saves of the tournament.
Cape Verde’s movement on the ball and fervent search for an equaliser did not abate as the crowd in PE paid witness to an intriguing ninety minutes of cut and thrust action. The match was underlined by the tumultuous atmosphere in the stadium and the obvious support Cape Verde had garnered throughout their Afcon journey.
Ghana was obstinate in defence and counter-attacked with aplomb in order to seal their passage into the semi-finals of the tournament and their relief was on show as they celebrated in front of their large group of fans in the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium. Lucio Antunes’ men looked like champions, but the Black Stars fought till the bitter end in order to book their semi-final berth.
Dreams were ended on Saturday for South Africa and Cape Verde. But both camps leave the tournament with their heads held up high, after pushing Africa’s elite to the brink. The Blue Sharks will be back and so too will Bafana Bafana, with talent, inspirational coaching units and newfound support and belief in their ability to become a part of Africa’s leading football nations.