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'Unity carried Bafana into playoffs'

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iol spt pic Siphiwe Tshabalala

Gallo Images

Siphiwe Tshabalala during the South African National soccer team training and player interviews at Peoples Park in Durban. Photo by Anesh Debiky / Gallo Images

Siphiwe Tshabalala says “unity and hunger” were key driving factors behind Bafana Bafana during the first round of the Africa Cup of Nations.

South Africa are preparing themselves for the next stage of the competition, which begins on Saturday when they play Mali in the quarterfinals at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

“There’s so many things we do off the field, we’re like a family,” Tshabalala told reporters on Wednesday.

“We get along very well, we work very hard together, we complement one another and everyone is just very supportive. So we’re a team, a team that’s united.

“This is a team that’s very determined, we’re showing hunger, we’re showing how badly we want this and not just for us, but for the nation.”

The Kaizer Chiefs midfielder, who was expected to play a prominent part in the first XI prior to the tournament, lost his place in Gordon Igesund’s team after the first match when Bafana

Bafana delivered a lacklustre performance in a goalless draw against Cape Verde Islands.

Fellow Amakhosi midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Orlando Pirates defender Thabo Matlaba were also dropped and have yet to receive starting berths again, along with Kagisho Dikgacoi, although the Crystal Palace player missed the second game through injury.

South Africa defeated Angola 2-0 in their second match, followed by a 2-2 draw with Morocco to seal top spot in Group A.

However, Tshabalala was not concerned, insisting his chance would come again.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the team,” he said.

“It’s about winning the Afcon and uniting the nation through sport.

“What matters most is the way the team has been doing… we’ve created a team and they’ve been doing well.

“I believe that if I do get a chance, I’ll also be grateful and do my best.”

The hosts, who reached the knockout stages of the continental spectacle for the first time in 11 years, face a daunting task against the Malians.

The Eagles, as they are nicknamed, have a strong record at the finals, having reached the semifinals five out of the seven times they have qualified, including a third-place finish last time around.

But Tshabalala was confident the hosts could overcome the west Africans.

“All the teams that have qualified and are participating in this competition are very strong,” he said.

“The game against Mali is going to be a tough one, especially because it is in the knockout stages. They will definitely come prepared.

“But we’re also prepared and we’ll just have to work very hard. The big thing that motivates us is that the country believes in Bafana Bafana, they're right behind the team.

“Our short-term goal was to advance to the next stage, and now that we’re here, our focus is on winning the quarterfinal and reaching the semi-finals.”

Sapa


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