Bafana goalkeeper #1 Ronwen Williams celebrates with head coach Hugo Broos after winning at the end of the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 quarter-final football match between Cape Verde and South Africa at the Stade Charles Konan Banny in Yamoussoukro on February 3, 2024. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)
Millions of South Africans slept with mended broken hearts on Wednesday evening after Bafana Bafana’s loss in the dreaded penalty shootout against Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations (Afcon).
The consensus among sports lovers was that the senior men’s national team had not disappointed the country, as has been the case for the best part of 24 years.
In that time, Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for four of the 10 Afcon tournaments hosted between 2004 and 2021 and, in the six events in which they took part, made the knockout stages only twice, scraping through to the quarterfinals before being booted out.
The lowest of the many nadirs the national side plummeted to came in 2006, when the team lost all three group-stage matches, failing to score a single goal and conceding five.
It was no surprise, therefore, that Bafana Bafana — the South African Football Association’s (Safa) flagship asset — went into this year’s Afcon in Côte d’Ivoire with, on anecdotal evidence, the majority of the country expecting them to crash out early again. After all, many were surprised the team managed to qualify in the first place.
Instead, Bafana Bafana rolled the years back and reached the semi-finals by knocking out African giants Tunisia and Morocco, the latter the continent’s leading team and world number 13, along the way. It’s the first time the men’s side reached this stage since 2000.
The achievement is attributable, in the main, to Safa finally coming to its senses and realising that coaching instability and the constant turnover of players had cheapened the national jersey and brought shame to the country.
The football association is known for its revolving coaching door but has stuck with Hugo Broos since his May 2021 appointment. This allowed Broos to build a solid team worthy of representing a football-mad nation such as South Africa.
Although Bafana Bafana’s glass is evidently half full, as the Mail & Guardian argued last week ahead of the quarter-final win against Cape Verde, more work needs to be done to restore the team to the top echelons of world football, where South Africa belonged before what could be called the 24 wasted years.
A good start will be for Safa to forgo its trigger-happy days and allow the coach to continue. Broos’s plans are working.
With that, more peaceful nights of sleep will return to a country that suffered two-and-a-half decades of nightmares.