Bongani Zungu (R) wants Bafana to remember to be humble ahead of their big AFCON clash against Nigeria. Photo: Gavin Barker BackpagePix
CAIRO 
 The conductor of the performance that Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter called a “masterclass tactically” is preaching humility ahead of their massive clash with Nigeria tomorrow.

Bongani Zungu pulled the strings in midfield and controlled the tempo spectacularly in Bafana’s 1-0 upset to eliminate Africa Cup of Nations hosts Egypt in the last 16 on Saturday. The win set up a tough contest with the Super Eagles in the quarter-finals at Cairo International Stadium. Nigeria eliminated Cameroon to reach the last eight and will be looking for revenge against the South Africans.

Bafana go into the match on a high, they beat the hosts and have a good record against Nigeria in their last two games. With Zungu in midfield doing a similar role, Bafana shocked Nigeria in Uyo to hand the Super Eagles a first defeat to SA in a competitive match during qualifying. Nigeria were lucky to get a point in the return leg at FNB Stadium last year. With this record and the confidence they have, it’s easy for Bafana to get carried away.

“We shouldn’t have big heads,” Zungu said. “We need to be humble, carry on the work and hopefully we will carry on from here. We are hoping for bigger performances in the future. We need to be humble and carry on the hard work.”

Bafana’s performances at Afcon has been mixed. They were poor in their group stage matches and were on the brink of elimination after collecting just one win from three games, struggling to even get a comprehensive win over Namibia while they lost 1-0 to Ivory Coast and Morocco. They somehow sneaked into the last 16 and transformed into a forceful unit that played Egypt off the park in a complete performance where it was hard to pick just one outstanding player. Bafana’s defence was well-organised, their midfield showed great character and their attack troubled the seven-time Afcon winners. “In games like this, you need character,” Zungu said. “I felt confident and good in the match. I play in hostile games in France, so this wasn’t really difficult. I try my best to motivate the players.”

Zungu’s class was on display in Saturday’s win. His intelligence and reading of the game was immaculate. He is growing with each match after a bad season that was rocked by injuries and kept him out of action for the better part of it. But his time in France has improved him as a footballer.

“There’s more to football than just having a kick about,” Zungu said. “I have grown as a footballer and as a person. I see other things on the pitch that I didn’t see before. I am also realising that family is important. Being away from home and not being in a comfort zone has forced me to grow and be able to work hard on my own. There, nobody follows up on you. The coaches don’t even push you too hard. You are professional, they expect you to know that you have to work hard for you to play. I have learned a lot, on an off the pitch.”

Malik Said