On this day 22 years ago, South Africa beat Morocco 3-1 in an Afcon group match in Mali, now the two countries clash again in a knockout tie....
What chance lightning striking twice in the same place when Bafana Bafana square up against Morocco in Tuesday’s Africa Cup of Nations Round of 16 tie at the Laurent Pokou Stadium in San Pedro, Ivory Coast?
The superstitious among us will say ‘no chance’. After all, they are likely to argue, lightning does not strike twice in the same place – does it?
Well, does it?
It’s a myth
The popular saying would seem to suggest that it does not. But it actually is a myth that. For in reality lightning can, and often does, strike the same place repeatedly – especially if it is a tall and isolated object. Did you know that the world famous Empire State Building in New York is hit by lightning on average 25 times a year?
And they don’t come as ‘tall’ as Morocco when it comes to African football, do they? The Atlas Lions are currently the continent’s top-ranked nation by both FIFA and CAF and they are just fresh from a massive feat which saw them become the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-final two years ago.
But wait, what does lightning striking twice have to do with this clash? I hear you ask. After all, have these two countries not met five times at the biennial, continental showpiece? And don’t they have two victories each with one of the contests ending in a stalemate?
You are right, that is the case.
But the reason I am on the lightning striking twice theme is because one of those five matches was played exactly 22 years ago on Tuesday. Back in 2002 on Wednesday January 30, South Africa and Morocco clashed in the final group match of the tournament hosted by Mali.
Though not a knockout round clash like this one, that fixture was a do-or-die match for both sides – Bafana having to win to progress from the group stage after two goalless stalemates and the Atlas Lions needing just a point to confirm their quarterfinal berth following a draw and a victory.
Intriguingly both teams were led by Portuguese coaches, Bafana under Carlos Queiroz and Morocco by Humberto Coelho.
I was at the Stade Amare Daou in Segou that Wednesday evening and vividly remember how Bafana turned on the magic to let it rain goals against a Morocco outfit that just did not know what had hit them.
Bafana turn on the style
The score was 1-0 at half time after Sibusiso Zuma had scored three minutes before the break and the match was thus still in the balance when they returned from half-time. But quick-fire goals scored by Thabo Mngomeni on 48 minutes and Siyabonga Nomvethe three minutes later literally rendered the match a no-contest with Rachid Benmahmoud’s 77th minute goal merely a consolation for Morocco.
South Africa progressed, and with Ghana beating Burkina Faso in the other match, Morocoo went home. Can Ronwen Williams and Co emulate that Class of 2002?
The differences between the two are immense – Queiroz having been blessed with leading a squad full of highly experienced internationals, a significant number of whom plied their trade in Europe. Of the 22-man squad, 11 were based overseas – England, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. The players based locally were big name stars with some of the country’s top clubs and most of them already had international experience.
And so, it was not surprising that they were hardly overawed by the challenge of taking on a Morocco side teeming with ‘internationals’ - the Atlas Lions' squad having just three players who played club football at home.
The current 27-man Bafana squad coached by Belgian and former Afcon winner Hugo Broos has Siphephelo Sithole (Portugal) and Mihlali Mayambela (Cyprus) as the only overseas-based players. Contrast that with the Morocco one that has just two home-based players, the majority of them having been at the Qatar World Cup and you see just why Bafana are the underdogs.
Surprises the order of the day
Do not, however, allow that to scare you from seeing Bafana make it a case of lightning striking twice – not with the kind of surprise results that this tournament has produced. Who would have picked the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to knock Egypt out? And the Ivory Coasts sending champions Senegal packing last night!
In any case, didn’t Bafana get the better of Morocco in the qualifying rounds for the self same tournament? Granted that clash was a dead rubber with both sides already guaranteed qualification. But that 2-1 victory should be a source of confidence for Broos and his team and the Belgian would do well to remind his boys of that.
And then there’s the fact that the match is being played on the very same day as that glorious 3-1 victory in Segou, Mali.
That has to surely be dropped into the team talk somewhere, right? Tell the boys to prove that lightining can strike twice at the same place Hugo.