Bafana laboured to a win over Namibia after losing to Ivory Coast in their opening match of the tournament. The win over the Brave Warriors put their fate of reaching the last 16 in their hands - win against Morocco tonight at Al Salam Stadium and a top two finish is secured.
A draw, should Ivory Coast beat Namibia, could be enough to take Bafana through as one of four best third-placed finishers.
But to do that they have to shake off their disappointing start and give it a proper go against Morocco. Bafana have been far from their best in this tournament. They didn’t have a single shot on target against the Elephants and they struggled to rattle Namibia who looked better than them when going forward. They have to put all of that aside in their clash against Morocco where the smallest indecision and doubt will be punished.
“Now the engine is starting to work properly,” Hlatshwayo said. “We couldn’t combine a lot of passes against Ivory Coast. It improved against Namibia and we have to do even better against Morocco. As a team we are starting to get into our groove.
"We started slow and didn’t penetrate Ivory Coast enough. The confidence is there and its growing. We managed to break Namibia’s defence, the match against Morocco is do or die. We have to go for three points. We just have to play our passing game because that is difficult for our opponents.”
Bafana coach Stuart Baxter criticised South Africans for criticising Bafana’s poor performance in the continental showpiece. Baxter’s paranoia got the better of him with his job hanging by a thread, anything less than a place in the last 16 could lead to his sacking. The pressure led to his outburst.
Hlatshwayo took a different stance into handling the criticism. The Bafana captain has endured some highs and lows in his time leading the team.
He wore the armband when Bafana beat Nigeria for the first time in a competitive match, doing so in Nigeria to rub salt to the Super Eagles wound. But “Tyson” was also the skipper when Bafana failed to qualify for the World Cup, losing back-to-back against an unconvincing Cape Verde team.
“Everything that is happening, being said and written about us, we know it,” Hlatshwayo said. “We just focus on the games. We are united as a team. The bond is tight. The critics, we just ignore them. If you look, when we lost to Ivory Coast it was our first loss in over a year. We qualified for the tournament unbeaten.
"No one said anything about that. But we aren’t focusing on that, we are just focused and united as a team. We focus on ourselves and doing the job for the country. At the end of the day we are doing this for the country and not ourselves.”