And so we say Au Revoir to Bafana Bafana, another Africa Cup of Nations gone without a trophy to celebrate. To be fair, to expect much more than a quarter-final exit for Gordon Igesund’s men was to live in the realm of deluded optimism.
There is no shame whatsoever in going out on penalties to Mali, taking a side ranked way ahead of South African right down to the wire. As such it is heartening to see the South African Football Association sticking by Gordon Igesund for the upcoming World Cup 2014 qualifiers.
Igesund, after a dour opener against Cape Verde, produced a side that fought with pride and passion, a side that gave Bafana its first victory at an Afcon finals in nine years.
Miracles do happen in football, like South Africa’s amazing triumph in 1996, or Zambia’s extraordinary surge to victory in 2012. But the reality is that until work is done on the poor development structures in the South African game, from school level up, and on the mediocre standard of the Absa Premiership, it is highly unlikely that South Africa will dominate the continent again.
And so to the current final four, Nigeria, Mali, Ghana and Burkina Faso left to contest the African crown, and on top of that, a place at this year’s Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Nigeria face Mali in Durban, buoyed by taking down the continent’s best side, the Ivory Coast in the quarter-final. Nigeria’s performances were not that good in the group stages, but when it mattered most they got it exactly right, taking the game to the Elephants and deservedly running out victors.
If Stephen Keshi’s side play with the same aggression against Mali, I expect them to reach a first final since they co-hosted the tournament right at the start of the Millennium. Patrice Carteron’s Mali are an obdurate, physical bunch, with the class of Seydou Keita running through their heart, and playing with extra motivation for a nation at war. But I think, like last year’s tournament, this is where their run will end.
And so to Nelspruit, that terrible pitch, and the second semi-final between Ghana and Burkina Faso. Ghana have been solid at this tournament. The Black Stars’ knockout experience told in their quarter-final and it might again here, as a side that has reached the last four Nations Cups semi-finals goes up against the Burkinabe – in their first since 1998.
Paul Put’s side have been the surprise package of this Nations Cup, a solid defence combined with a vibrant attack, Jonathan Pitroipa one of the stars of the tournament. Burkina Faso should be used to the sandy surface at Mbombela, which could give them an advantage, but I think their run will end here, setting up a mouthwatering Ghana-Nigeria final. – The Star