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South Africa in rare AFCON appearance in 2024 could be motivational

Posted : 09 January 2024

As AFCON 2024 approaches in a few days, Bafana Bafana will be determined to silence sceptics and recapture their former glory on the continent. The Bafana Bafana unexpectedly secured the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 1996, and the event shot the team up to reckoning in the African football circle after a few decades on the sidelines wrapped in apartheid circumstances.


However, after winning the AFCON 1996 edition, the team, Bafana Bafana, has yet to replicate the feat and has yet to display any serious sign of reclaiming their past success. The head coach, Hugo Broos, of Bafana Bafana, oversaw the team, which experienced a streak of 12 unbeaten games before encountering a defeat against Rwanda in a FIFA World Cup qualifier in November 2023.


Heading into this year's African continental tournament, the South Africans will aim to surprise many with a strong performance, and maybe they might emerge as an unexpected contender in Cote d'Ivoire.


 Down in the history lane, South Africa is the first African country to be registered as a country to play football, as the game was introduced to the country by the colonial masters. Football as a sport first arrived in the once-apartheid-tagged country in the late nineteenth century; however, the game was only popular and restricted among the British soldiers.


From the earliest days of the sport in South Africa until the end of apartheid, organised soccer was affected by the country's system of racial segregation. The all-white Football Association of South Africa (FASA) was formed in 1892, while the South African Indian Football Association (SAIFA), the South African Bantu Football Association (SABFA), and the South African Black Football Association (SACFA) were founded in 1903, 1933, and 1936, respectively.


Joining the league of football-playing nations in Africa, the Bafana Bafana are then registered in the minds and hearts of every local football fan. 'The Boys' have been on a long journey since their inception in 1992, and although it hasn’t always been a good storyline. It was the strong call for an end to apartheid that affected South Africa, as the country was isolated from Africa's most followed sport, football, for two decades before the re-absorption in 1992.


South Africa's national football team entered the global arena after many years of apartheid-enforced isolation. The team's very first international match outside of apartheid was against Cameroon in Durban on July 7, 1992, when hero Doctor Khumalo scored and gave South Africa a 1-0 win over the opposition. However, the effects of South Africa's isolation showed soon enough, and the team failed to qualify for the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations.


In a gradual inclination toward re-absorption, Bafana Bafana of South Africa struggled to gain entrance into the biggest game until 1996, when the country decided to host the tournament and subsequently won it. Bafana Bafana have participated in ten Afcon tournaments, clinching the title only once in 1996, and they were the runners-up in 1998. Despite reaching the quarterfinals in 2000, 2002, and 2013, they were unable to advance further.


In 2015, the team couldn't progress beyond the group stage. While qualifying for the 2019 edition, they were eliminated in the quarterfinals, suffering a 2-1 defeat to Nigeria. Unfortunately, in 2021, South Africa did not secure qualification for the competition held in Cameroon.


Bafana Bafana rose to the occasion as the host of AFCON and went on to win the 1996 edition by beating Tunisia in a nail-biting final. In a quick follow-up in 1997, Bafana Bafana qualified for the World Cup for the very first time, and in 1998, the team gave a good showing at the Africa Cup of Nations, winning a place in the final against Egypt.


In 2010, South Africa became the first African country to host a World Cup, and during the FIFA World Cup, Bafana Bafana had decent performances against Japan and South Korea. The team's performance during the tournament encouraged the South African, while the iconic Siphiwe Tshabalala's goal against Mexico was the first and one of the finest of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Afterwards, Bafana Bafana haven't really lived up to their potential since then in terms of results, but the nation continues to get behind the team regardless.


The era between 1996 and 2002 oversees the of rising soccer prowess saw South Africa blessed with fine footballers such as record-setting goal scorers Benni McCarthy and Shaun Bartlett, defensive hardmen and inspirational captains Lucas Radebe and Neil Tovey, creative maestros John Moshoeu and Doctor Khumalo and defensive stalwart Mark Fish, but yet, the team as a whole failed to dominate Africa in terms of winning continental trophy for the country.


After a poor 2012 in which South Africa had performed poorly and had steadily slid down FIFA's rankings, their performance in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations was a marked improvement. Although coach Gordon Igesund had been handed the almost impossible task of a semifinal berth as a target in his contract.


South Africa qualified for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, finishing second and undefeated with a shock 2–0 away win over Nigeria, while they participated in the tournament, where they are grouped with Morocco, Ivory Coast, and Namibia, and narrowly qualified to the knockout stage with only a single 1–0 win over Namibia. They had to face host Egypt (which had Mohamed Salah), winners of the AFCON seven times, and had just qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.


The South Africans then pulled out the biggest upset in the tournament, knocking Egypt out in the round of 16 stage with a 1–0 win in Cairo. Then, South Africa once again faced Nigeria in the quarterfinals, but there was no further upset as Nigeria prevailed 2–1, but it was regarded as South Africa's best performance in the 2010s. South Africa failed to qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. The country appointed another coach, a former Cameroon national team handler, Hugo Broos, who then ensured qualification for the AFCON 2024.


Coach Hugo Bross has carefully chosen his squad, blending experienced players with emerging talents. Despite encountering obstacles, including injuries and absences, the team looks to be approaching the forthcoming event with optimism.


Notable additions to the squad for the AFCON 2024 consist of international players such as Mihlali Mayambela and Sphephelo Sithole, while young talents Oswin Appollis and Jayden Adams contribute a new and vibrant dimension to the national team setup. A significant contingent of Mamelodi Sundowns players have secured spots in the Broos' squad.


Among them are experienced campaigners Ronwen Williams, Grant Kekana, Aubrey Modiba, Khuliso Mudau, Terrence Mashego, Mothobi Mvala, Tebogo Mokoena, Thapelo Maseko, Thapelo Morena, and Themba Zwane. These Sundowns players bring substantial experience to the African stage, having recently clinched the African Football League title and actively participating in the CAF Champions League.


Their seasoned expertise could play a pivotal role in guiding the national team to continental success. The experienced Belgian mentor is no stranger to AFCON, having previously led the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon to the title in 2017.


His impressive credentials include being honoured as Belgian Coach of the Year on four occasions, and if there is an individual within the Bafana technical team who comprehends what it takes to triumph at this event, Broos is the man.


Despite mixed opinions about whether Broos is the ideal leader for South Africa's national team, he undoubtedly has a mission to accomplish by aiming to guide Bafana to their first final in 28 years. The experience of Broos in Africa could be a launch pad for Bafana Bafana to yet another continental success.


An advantage that appears promising for Bafana lies in the array of talented individuals in the 23-man squad, as well as the four players on the standby list. Tapelo Xoki from the Orlando Pirates, Sibongiseni Mthethwa from the Kaizer Chiefs, Elias Mokwana from Sekhukhune United, and prolific goal-scorer Iqraam Rayners of Stellenbosch are notable names providing backup in the event of serious injuries or illnesses to eligible players. These players can play a pivotal role when called upon on any given day.


The Bafana Bafana of South Africa is now expected to slug it out in Group E against Mali, Namibia, and the finalists of the 1996 AFCON Tunisia, a country they defeated in the final. Undoubtedly, Bafana find themselves in a group that appears quite favourable, having sidestepped traditional football powerhouses like Senegal, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, and the hosts, Ivory Coast. Will they step foot on the gas? Time will tell as the biennial tournament kicks off in a few days.



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