Bafana Bafana are delicately poised for Africa Cup of Nations glory after they ended a 24-year absence from the semi-finals following their 2-1 penalty shoot-out win over Cape Verde in Saturday’s quarter-final in Ivory Coast.
Coach Hugo Broos’s charges have been giant killers, eliminating Morocco, the World Cup semi-finalists, and then defeating Cape Verde, previously also unbeaten. They have now fixed a semi-final date with the Super Eagles of Nigeria on Wednesday at Stade de la Paix in Bouaké.
In their last semi-final appearance in 2000, South Africa suffered a 2-0 loss to Nigeria.
Cape Verde, seeking to be inspired by Madiba Magic, were floored by Bafana Bafana’s 4x4 power in Saturday’s Africa Cup of Nations 2023 semi-final against South Africa.
On the eve of the match, Pedro “Bubista” Brito, the national team coach of Cape Verde, said his team would be drawing heavily on the inspiration of Nelson Mandela, the former South African president.
Madiba Magic had spurred Bafana Bafana to great heights in 1996. Despite being debutantes then, they went on to win the Afcon title after substitute Mark Williams scored twice in the final against Tunisia in Johannesburg.
On Saturday, another Williams was at the heart of Bafana’s astonishing quarter-final win.
This time it was goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, who produced a spellbinding display to save four penalties in the match-deciding penalty shoot-out, which South Africa won 2-1.
Penalties came into play after 120 minutes failed to separate the teams, who played to a goalless stalemate.
It was Williams’ fourth clean sheet at Afcon 2023 and these magical moments stirred memories of the bad old days when the number four was a curse for Bafana.
Soon after being readmitted to world football in the early 1990s, Bafana often conceded four goals in matches against African opposition and fans around the continent mockingly named them 4x4s.
On Saturday, the 4x4 tag took on a whole new meaning as Broos’s charges reached the semi-final round on the back of Williams’ fourth clean sheet and four penalty saves. They will now play Nigeria on Wednesday in the semi-finals (kick-off 7pm).
The team’s Belgian-born coach said after the match that his players were delighted when the dreaded shoot-out emerged because they were well prepared.
“When we got to the penalty shootout, it was a special thing for the players, because during training they were scoring them,” said Broos.
“When we have a goalkeeper who stops four penalty kicks, this is not luck but a lot of hard work. Not many people in South Africa believed in this team, but we (the technical staff) believed in it.
“The players believed in themselves as well. Reaching the semi-finals is a good thing for South African football.
There was a lot of pressure in the match.
“Everyone wanted to qualify. This match was unlike the previous ones. We did not show the same performance as we had in previous matches.”
Broos has already given some thought to the clash against Nigeria’s Super Eagles, who will be led by England-born Ademola Lookman.
“The semi-final match will be different against Nigeria, which has good players like (Ademola) Lookman. We will not lose focus.
“The players will be in good condition, so we need to rest and recover to start our preparation.”
Brito praised South Africa after the match and even though they only scored one of five penalties, insisted his best players did their best during the spot-kicks.
“The players who took the penalties are the best in our team,” said Brito, “but when you are tired it is difficult.
“I am proud of our players, they showed their character.
“Congratulations to South Africa. We wanted to win the match, but this is football.
“In my opinion, we had several chances to win this match. We have a good team, and we also faced a good competitor.
“We had several chances to kill the match but we were not able to.”