Sifiso Hlanti of South Africa is challenged by Geoffroy Die Serey of Ivory Coast during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

CAIRO – The barrage of criticism that Sifiso Hlanti has faced for his underwhelming performances at the Africa Cup of Nations doesn’t bother him due to his positive mindset.

The Bafana Bafana full-back has had a poor tournament so far, struggling to even deliver a decent number of crosses. Part of the reason why Lebo Mothiba has been missing in action upfront is because wide players like Hlanti haven’t delivered enough balls to him in the box.

“I’ve been trying so hard, I know very well that whatever that I have been delivering in the field of play isn’t enough for me because I know what I can do,” Hlanti said. “But we have to understand that some things don’t go the way we want.

If you can’t read the game situation, that means you might be lost. I think that my biggest concern is to be more clinical at the back, we don’t concede silly goals. In terms of going forward, that’s something we add on top of what we have been in the game.”

Sifiso Hlanti in action against Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech on Monday. Photo: Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters
Sifiso Hlanti in action against Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech on Monday. Photo: Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters

Hlanti’s performances at Afcon in a way mirrors Bafana’s outings in Egypt, disappointing and uninspiring. But their clash with the hosts in the last 16 on Saturday is an opportunity for not only Hlanti, but the whole team to win over fans.

The Pharaohs, in front of 75 000 passionate fans at the Cairo International Stadium, will offer Bafana a bigger test than the Ivory Coast, Namibia and Morocco did. It will also be a mental test against Egypt, as Bafana looked dead and buried in the group stage after collecting only three points from one win.

But with results going their way in other matches, South Africa advanced to the last 16 as one of four best third-placed finishers.

“That’s a crucial stage for them,” Hlanti said. “I say this because they rate us as underdogs. I don’t take that tag to heart because I know what I can do for the country. I believe in all the guys who are here. It’s all in our hands.”

The general feeling in SA is that Bafana delayed the inevitable when they advanced to the last 16 only to face the most successful team in Afcon history. Hlanti doesn’t take that to heart, or any criticism that has been directed to the team and him.

“I take myself as an ordinary person, I respect people so much,” Hlanti said. “They might not be reacting well to how we are playing, but truly speaking whatever we do here, we aren’t doing for anyone else. We are doing this for ourselves because we work for our families.

Yes, we respect the support that we get from the country. You can’t doubt that. But all in all, it’s all about us because we are here for one ambition. The mission that we have here is to go far in this tournament, which will please them. That’s the most important thing for us in this tournament. We respect their support. We have that mentality that if we can go far, and get something out of nothing, that’s what we are looking for.

“Those are the things (the criticism) that I don’t associate myself with. The reason is that I am just a normal person. I respect myself and I respect people.

At some stage, I prefer to view things as if there is nothing wrong. I am always positive.”

Sifiso Hlanti in action during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Sifiso Hlanti in action during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Malik Said