The three Bafana Bafana players Teboho Mokoena, Ronwen Williams and Evidence Makgopa have proved they can provide the axis for a match-winning performance against much-talked-about Cape Verde in Saturday's Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final clash in Ivory Coast.
Cape Verde, the 73rd-best team in the world, along with South Africa count among the big surprise packages at Afcon. The tiny West African country's national team has already caused a few upsets by defeating higher-ranked sides.
However, coach Hugo Broos's unfancied charges have mounted a concerted challenge for Afcon honours, thanks to the consistency of players like Mokoena, Williams and Makgopa.
After four matches, 'Tebza' Mokoena has emerged as one of the best midfielders in Ivory Coast. He capped his performance with a stunning goal from a set-piece against Morocco last Tuesday. It will rank as one of the best dead-ball plays at Afcon 2023.
Centre of the Bafana force
He is becoming the fulcrum around which coach Hugo Broos has moulded his team. Although all of his performances were outstanding, his showing against Tunisia was a midfield performance for the ages against an opposition side full of players from all over Europe.
Apart from a goal, he has also registered an assist play. His shifts in the midfield have allowed players like Themba Zwane more freedom because Mokoena is keeping opposition players busy.
Goalkeeper Williams continues to improve with every outing, and as the captain he leads from the front.
He didn't have to save a crucial penalty by Morocco's kingpin Achraf Hakimi, but there has been speculation that the Paris Saint-Germain left-back may have been intimidated by Williams' reputation. As a result, it contributed to his loss of composure, and he ballooned the 'spot' kick.
With most of the Bafana Bafana squad made up of Mamelodi Sundowns’ players, Williams has a good understanding of how the national team operates and that helps with distribution which very often is out of the top drawer. On occasions, his feeds have led to counter-attacks which opponents have battled to contain.
Against Morocco, he made one brilliant save towards the end of the match, as he bravely stood his ground.
He is now one of two goalkeepers to secure three clean sheets at this Afcon.
His calmness under pressure is because of playing for Sundowns in various Caf competitions. With every outing, he tries to share that calmness with the rest of the team.
Makgopa, the rising star
Makgopa, Broos' blue-eyed striker, has won over the hearts of fans who over time felt he was not enough for the national team. But Broos believed in him and he has started replaying the coach's faith in him.
He proved to be a class act against Morocco when he scored a brilliant goal and that sent shockwaves through the ranks of the Moroccans.
Makgopa has proved his value as a nuisance player because he keeps defenders busy with his runs off and on the ball, and does not relent as the match wears on.
He is a robust player and can cope with the opposition's physicality. As a lanky striker, he can challenge in the aerial duels and has come close to scoring with headers in recent matches.
It has been noticeable that Makgopa keeps up his work-rate until late in the match, and that's when the Orlando Pirates player poses the biggest threat.