OPINION – Bafana lose their killer instinct but make a nation proud
Bafana have a chance to exact revenge in World Cup qualifying.
Khuliso Mudau missed a glorious chance to win the semifinal for Bafana. Picture: Issouf SANOGO / AFP)
In hindsight, Bafana Bafana lost their Africa Cup of Nations semifinal against Nigeria on Wednesday in the few minutes that followed Teboho Mokoena’s equalising penalty kick.
To give context to this, however, we also need to rewind to what preceded Mokoena’s penalty. In what might just be the peak moment of drama in an AFCON full of extraordinary stories, Victor Osimhen thought he had won the game for Nigeria when he tapped in at the far post. The Super Eagles went ballistic, with bear hugs of joy all round on the touchline.
But wait. Television pictures cut to a few Bafana players talking intently to Egyptian referee Amin Omar. And then came the moment that made it look like Bafana’s name just might be on the AFCON trophy. Omar did the famous VAR ‘rectangle’ and ran to the pitch side monitor.
Just before Nigeria broke and scored, Yusuf Alhassan had clearly caught Percy Tau on the back of his leg inside the penalty area. It was one of those double jeopardy moments. Not only was Osimhen’s goal ruled out, Bafana had a penalty, and a chance to level the game.
Mokoena buried it, and for the rest of normal time, there was only going to be one winner of this pulsating game. The Super Eagles, understandably having gone from thinking they had won, to suddenly being dragged back into a contest, lost their heads.
They were all over the place at the back, and Bafana were inspired, a new lease of life coursing through their veins. The match was there to be won. Mihlali Mayambela took too long to get a shot away inside the box.
And then came the moment that had the Bafana bench almost unilaterally holding their head in their hands. Teboho Mokoena smashed a free kick from 35 metres that the excellent Stanley Nwabali should really have routinely pushed for a corner. But even he was feeling the heat. Nwabali fumbled the ball straight back into play and Khuliso Mudau pulled the trigger.
On another day, Mudau would surely have blazed into the net, and Bafana would be in the final. He smashed his effort over the bar, however, and the game went into extra time.
At this point, Nigeria were able to steady themselves, and drag themselves over the line, via the lottery of a shoot out. Where Bafana were so clinical against Morocco in the last 16, here they took their foot off their opponents throat.
With all this said, however, what a brilliant performance from Bafana at this Africa Cup of Nations finals. When the tears have dried up and the frustration is gone, Hugo Broos’ side will be able to look back with immense pride at a tournament in which they beat Africa’s number one side and ran the Super Eagles ever so close.
And Bafana won’t have to wait long for a chance to exact their revenge. There is a 2026 World Cup finals to qualify for and what better way to do it than to beat Nigeria to the top of Group C. Bafana can travel to Nigeria in June knowing even more than ever that they have the ability to clip the Super Eagles’ wings.