Ronwen Williams says winning the Africa Cup of Nations is the only feat that could topple what was the “best night of my career” at the ongoing biennial showpiece.
Williams saved four penalty kicks out of five as Bafana beat Cape Verde 2-1 in the shootout to advance to the semi-finals of the continental event.
It was indeed the best night of Williams’ career as he etched his name in the history books by being the first South African goalie to keep four clean sheets in the finals.
The match had ended goalless after regulation and extra time, and the 31-year-old was the deciding factor in that, having pulled off some fantastic saves.
Williams’ heroics at the finals – that also included clean sheets against Namibia, Tunisia and Morocco – are vindication of the keeper, who has endured plenty of criticism.
Since breaking into the Bafana set-up 10 years ago, naysayers have always referred to the blunders he made in his debut match against Brazil, where he conceded five goals, whenever his name pops up.
Williams has also been compared to one of Bafana’s greats, Itumeleng Khune, with detractors saying he’ll never match the 36-year-old’s exploits.
But boy, Williams is answering his critics in some style as he ensured Bafana will face nemesis Nigeria on Wednesday night for a spot in the final for the first time since 2000.
Speaking at the post-match media conference deep in the bowels of the Charles Konan Banny Stadium after his heroics, the Mamelodi Sundowns’ No 1 reflected with glee on the night that was.
“It’s definitely the best night of my career. I don’t think anything will top this unless we go on and win Afcon,” he said, before looking ahead to the tie against Nigeria.
“We know it’s going to be a bigger one, so we need to prepare accordingly, and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
You see, the penalty kicks are a lottery. But Williams didn’t go into the tie against the Blue Sharks blindfolded as he duly did his homework with team analyst Sinesipho Mali.
“I'll receive this award on behalf of the whole team, the staff, the technical team and everyone that’s been on the journey with us,” Williams said.
“The analysts, they cut so many videos to study the clips.
“I studied them as well but credit to the analysts and the goalkeeper coach (Grant Johnson) as well.”
Mali is no stranger to helping the South African national teams reach dizzying heights at major events, having worked with both the junior and senior teams.
The Uefa Elite Scout graduate was part and parcel of the Banyana Banyana team that reached the World Cup last 16 for the very first time in Australasia in August.
However, with Cape Verde regarded as minnows and their players scattered all over the world, Williams lauded Mali and his team for the homework they did for Saturday night.
“They (the analysts) sent me so many clips, my phone is full of penalty clips. So, credit to the analysts because it’s not easy to get footage of these players,” Williams said.
“They are playing all over the world. The work the analysts did made my job easier because I had an idea where most of the players were going.”
The job might have been easier for Williams against the islanders, but it sure promises to be tough against Nigeria, who’ve been Bafana’s arch-rivals for years.
Williams must ensure he’s at his best, especially given the fact that his opposite number on the night, Stanley Nwabali, will want to outshine him.
Nwabali is also plying his trade in the PSL’s top flight, where he’s on the books of Chippa United.