Nigeria Afcon semi-final: Bafana’s hopes hinge on Hugo Broos’ triple axis

Bafana Bafana’s Grant Kekana has been key to South Africa keeping multiple clean sheets in the Africa Cup of Nations. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky / BackpagePix

Bafana Bafana’s Grant Kekana has been key to South Africa keeping multiple clean sheets in the Africa Cup of Nations. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky / BackpagePix

Published Feb 6, 2024


Bafana Bafana emerged victorious from their Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final clash against Cape Verde but coach Hugo Broos declared afterwards, “that was our worst performance at Afcon” .

It speaks volumes for Hugo Broos' coaching ability that the side has maintained their challenge for Afcon honours, despite their recent poor performance at the continental marquee event.

Although he may have questioned his tactics for the match, Broos has put in place three units that have formed a formidable axis.

Broos' defensive pillar could potentially win him the game against Nigeria.

The central defence is manned by the duo of Mothobi Mvala and Grant Kekana. They've provide an impressive wall in front of goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, who produced a spellbinding performance in the penalty shoot-out.

It was a world-class performance and if the Mvala-Kekana combination continues to hold its own, Nigeria will spend a frustrating evening in front of the opposition goal. Mvala, nicknamed “Lord” by his Mamelodi Sundowns teammates, has been one of the standout players, and another impressive performance by the 29-year-old will help Bafana lord it over Nigeria for the first time in an Afcon clash.

The midfield has proved to be the heart and soul of the team, much to the delight of Broos. He cannot praise Teboho Mokoena enough. Mokoena has struck up a great understanding in the engine room with Sphephelo “Yaya” Sithole. Finally, Broos has a third unit in place that provides a clinical edge to the side's attack.

Attacking midfielders Percy Tau and Themba Zwane are working in tandem behind lone striker Evidence Makgopa. Both Tau and Zwane can hold the ball up and punch holes in the opposition's rearguard.

They look for openings for Makgopa, who has shown to be smart with play off the ball. Much more is expected of this three-pronged attack, and they may just be stung into action against the three-time champions tonight.

Broos has acknowledged the difficult task awaiting his side against a star-studded Nigeria side boasting the likes of Ademola Lookman. He insists, however, that his squad will be ready for the showdown on Africa's biggest football stage, after banishing past doubts about their quality.

“The semi-final will be tough against Nigeria's great players, but we have nothing to lose now,” said Broos, who now enjoys the distinction of leading the national team to their first Africa Cup of Nations semi-final since 2000. “Staying focused is essential.”

After years in the doldrums, South Africa is daring to dream again thanks to Broos' vision, and a player like Kekana remains optimistic about his team's chances of reaching the championship round.

The 38-year-old acknowledged the Super Eagles' considerable quality, although he expressed confidence in the 1996 champions' ability to complete the task at hand.

Said Kekana: “Obviously, it's another tough opponent.

“We know Nigeria has a lot of quality players; we know they've done well to also get this far but we believe in ourselves. We are going to go to the drawing board, plan accordingly and give ourselves a chance of getting a positive result against them.”

Nigeria will aim to maintain their impressive track record at the Africa Cup of Nations against South Africa.

The Super Eagles stand out as the most formidable team remaining in the competition, boasting and attack led by the current African footballer of the year, Victor Osimhen, and a solid defensive strategy implemented by coach Jose Peseiro.

Nigeria have secured four consecutive victories without conceding any goals. “If you don't concede goals, you can win every time,” said Peseiro.

They will take on Bafana Bafana in a repeat of the 2019 quarter-final in Egypt which the Super Eagles won 2-1 thanks to a late goal.