JOHANNESBURG – A strike by Thembinkosi Lorch in the 85th minute brought South Africa to a standstill as Bafana Bafana progressed to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations after defeating hosts Egypt 1-0 in the last 16.
For many South Africans that wasn’t the expected outcome as they expected Bafana to crash out of the tournament on Saturday following a scrappy performance in the group stage. But Stuart Baxter’s men silenced their naysayers by producing a polished performance to bring belief that Bafana can achieve the improbable.
Below, football reporter Mihlali Baleka looks at what Saturday’s shock victory means for SA football.
Baxter heeds the call
SA football supporters expressed their frustrations with Baxter over the omission of PSL Footballer of the Season Lorch in the group-stage matches. The Orlando Pirates striker got the opportunity to start ahead of Themba Zwane, who was suspended, and grabbed the bull by the horns and in the process bought Baxter some time as Bafana coach.
Baxter has already achieved his initial mandate to qualify for the knockout stage, but surpassed the expectations of discerning supporters and made it through to the last eight - thanks to Lorch’s winner.
The PSL is Under-rated
Mohamed Salah is the best player in Africa. And he is on the books of reigning European champions Liverpool. But the Egyptian was made to look average as Wits’ left-back Sifiso Hlanti kept him in his back pocket.
In the bigger scheme of things, Baxter fielded the best the PSL has ever produced. Percy Tau won the 2017-18 PSL Footballer of the Season, while he was succeeded by Lorch last season. Bafana keeper Ronwen Williams has justified why he is the reigning PSL Goalkeeper of the Season as he kept a clean sheet against Salah, who has been the leading goalscorer in the Premier League for the last two seasons.
From the Diski Challenge to the riches
Tau is currently the best player of his generation in SA football. His meteoric rise is inspiring for all who aspire to be the best. The Witbank-born trickster made his mark after featuring for Mamelodi Sundowns’ reserve team in the Diski Challenge under the watchful eye of Rhulani Mokwena.
Following a loan spell with Witbank Spurs, Tau took the opportunity to play in the feeder league by the scruff of the neck and returned to the first team a season after. Under Pitso Mosimane, Tau matured into a fine player and was recognised by the PSL for his impressive exploits. From thereon, he went on to sign for Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion in a move worth R50million before going on loan to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium, were he was crowned the second division league’s Player of the Season.
That form continued with Bafana as he impressed during the Afcon qualifiers.
No Khune, no problem
With 89 caps under his belt, Itumeleng Khune is the second highest capped Bafana player, while Aaron Mokoena is the highest with 107. Khune, however, has been unfortunate with injuries in his career as he missed Afcon 2015. At that tournament, then coach Shakes Mashaba played all of his three goalkeepers, Jackson Mabokgwane, Darren Keet and Brilliant Khuzwayo, but that was disastrous as neither of them kept a clean sheet.
Enter this year’s edition, and Williams and Keet have been at their best. Their performances prove that when an entrusted player is not available, someone who is equally as talented or more so can easily fill in the void.
SAFA can learn from the EFA
Bafana’s win over the Pharaohs completed what has already been an impressive year for the South Africans over the Egyptians. In last season’s Caf Champions League, Sundowns recorded one the biggest upsets in continental football when they hammered Africa’s team of the century Al Ahly 5-0 away in the first leg of their quarter-final.
But Saturday’s loss was the last straw for the Egyptians over the South Africans with Egyptian Football Association president Hany Abo Rida resigning soon after firing coach Javier Aguirre.
However, with Baxter given a mandate of qualifying for the knockout stage - and having achieved that feat thanks to Mali in the group stage - Safa will probably keep him for the next few years, despite his team’s underwhelming displays.@Mihlalibaleka