Bafana star believes ‘A-game’ will be enough to tame Morocco at Afcon

Sphephelo Sithole of South Africa during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations press conference for South Africa at Laurent Pokou Stadium in San Pedro, Ivory Coast

A win over Morocco send Bafana to the quarter-finals for the second time in back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations finals, but that’s easier said than done believes South Africa midfielder Sphephelo Sithole. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Published Jan 30, 2024


Bafana Bafana midfielder Sphephelo Sithole says they’ll have to be at their best to get a win against Morocco in the Africa Cup of Nations round of 16 on Tuesday.

Bafana had a lukewarm campaign in the group stage as they won one game, drew one and lost one en route to finishing second in Group E behind Mali. However, that won’t matter much as a win over the Atlas Lions will send them to the quarter-finals for the second time in back-to-back Afcon finals.

That’s easier said than done. Morocco might have won two games and drawn one in the group stage, but they remain one of the favourites to win the competition.

And having seen them top the rankings on the continent after an incredible fourth-place finish at the 2022 World Cup, Sithole said they expect a very tough game.

‘Difficult for both teams’

“I think everyone knows that the game is going to be difficult for both teams,” he said during the pre-match media conference in Korhogo on Monday. “But I think if we bring our A-game we can get our best result.”

Sithole is right.

Bafana will be able to come out victorious only if they apply themselves correctly on the day and do not leave any stone unturned.

The Hugo Broos-coached team has already beaten Walid Regragui’s men once in the last few months, with a 2-1 victory in the return leg of the qualifiers for the ongoing finals.

That result wasn’t crucial for the South Africans in the bigger scheme of things, however, as the two teams had already qualified for the biennial showpiece.

Sithole, who made his Bafana debut when they lost to Morocco in the first leg away from home, now knows what is at stake while he opened up on his growing partnership with Teboho Mokoena.

“I think the game that we are going to play tomorrow (Tuesday) is very big for us,” he said.

“It will be big for the people back home because they’ll be watching this game. So, I think if we are able to do well in that game then everyone back at home will be happy.

“I think my partnership with Mokoena in the middle of the park has been working very well.

“We can understand each other very well. If we are going to keep playing this way, the team will go far.”

Broos respecting Morocco

The knockout stage matches are tricky as they can swing either way, but Broos says the fact that Morocco are going into the game as clear favourites is not a fluke.

“It’s not a question of advantage but it’s a fact. When you are ranked No 1 that means that you are the best team,” the 71-year-old coach explained.

“The results that Morocco got in the last few years gave them the rankings. They played fantastic in Qatar.

“So, they became a big and good team. The first place in the ranking is what it is and it’s a fact. When you are ranked No 1 that means you are the best team at that moment.”

But be that as it may, Sithole says they do not need extra motivation when they play against the big teams. Hence they were able to knock out Egypt in the last 16 of the 2019 finals on home soil.

“As you may have seen, when we play the big teams we are usually motivated,” Sithole said.

“I think what happened in Egypt will motivate us and show us anything is possible.

“When we go into the game, we know that with the squad that we have, we can go all the way.

“We know that it’s a do-or-die game. If we lose then we are going home. We need to win.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Mali will face Burkina Faso at 7pm.