Stuart Baxter addresses players during a training session at the Aero Sports Complex, Cairo, on Tuesday. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Stuart Baxter addresses players during a training session at the Aero Sports Complex, Cairo, on Tuesday. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
IOL Sport's soccer writer Minenhle Mkhize.
IOL Sport's soccer writer Minenhle Mkhize.

DURBAN – What Bafana Bafana achieved at Cairo International Stadium on Saturday was nothing short of extraordinary.

They defied the odds and dethroned the mighty Egyptians in front of a packed stadium in a pulsating Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Last 16 encounter. Not many nations have dispatched Egypt in their territory. For many visiting teams in Egypt, Cairo is regarded as a slaughter-house.

The crowds there are passionate and hostile but Bafana achieved “the impossible”, sticking to their plan despite the deafening noise. It was a well-structured performance. One of the best displays in the past decade for the South Africans.

No-one gave Bafana a chance but they suddenly developed “balls of steel” not seen in recent years. They were resilient and determined to push the six-time continental champions all the way. It is that determination that was missing during the group stages and will be once again required tonight against Nigeria.

The selection of Thembinkosi Lorch gave South Africa a different dimension and rhythm upfront. The Premier Soccer League Footballer of the Season was outstanding on the night. He ran his socks off and gave Bafana more speed in the final third. Bafana were suddenly threatening when going forward as Lorch combined well with Percy Tau and Lebohang Mothiba.

I have previously questioned Bafana coach Stuart Baxter’s decision to keep the Pirates marksman on the bench even though his line-up lacked sharpness. My contention had less to do with the fact that Lorch can score goals but I argued that he was the in-form player in South Africa. The execution, composure and calmness when he netted that goal was class. It’s a kind of maturity needed at that level of competition.

But, of course, one swallow doesn’t make a summer - the job is not yet done for Bafana. I hope they understand that beating Egypt does not make them the world beaters.

Unfortunately history records champions - not the Last 16 winners. And that’s why tonight at 9pm Bafana must approach the Super Eagles as if their lives depend on winning this game. There’s never a dull moment when these two countries lock horns.

Bafana had nothing to lose against Egypt because of their lacklustre displays in the round robin stages but all eyes will now be on them against Nigeria because of their triumph over the Pharaohs.

They have created expectations by dumping out the hosts and the tournament favourites. They are facing a Nigerian side that they haven’t lost to in the last four games. The Nigerians have the ability to pick themselves up after disappointments as they did by steamrolling over Cameroon following a 2-0 shocker against Madagascar.

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So, Bafana need to adopt a similar mental approach to what they had against Egypt in their Nigeria match to build consistency. Great teams are the ones that thrive on consistency. Bafana have to show us that their victory was no flash in the pan.

They have not reached the semi-finals of an Afcon since 2000 in Nigeria and Ghana. Reaching the last four should be a common occurrence for a country with a highly-rated domestic league.

But Nigeria are no push overs, Bafana have to be at their best to earn victory. Against Egypt we showed that our strength is speed, keeping possession and quick movements.

We have to stick to that against the big Nigerians tonight.

@Minenhlecr7s

 

The Mercury

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