Cairo — On the flip-side of Bafana’s Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal defeat to Nigeria, is the belief they have the talent to compete with the best teams in Africa.
So said SA goal-scorer Bongani Zungu after the heart-breaking 2-1 loss to the Super Eagles. Zungu said Bafana had the belief they could score again, and perhaps win the game, and qualify for their first Nations Cup semifinals since 2000.
Zungu’s goal came in the 71st minute after the referee referred to the video assistant referee (VAR). The match appeared headed for extra time after SA had battled back tenaciously from a first-hour dominance by Nigeria and Samuel Chukwueze’s 26th minute strike. Who knows what might have happened had they got there?
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But a lapse in defence allowed an unmarked William Troost-Ekong to score from a corner two minutes from time.
Bafana’s performances at the tournament were that of an imperfect team who produced one spectacular outing shocking the hosts 1-0 in the last-16.
Coach Stuart Baxter’s failure was that he could not get runners such as Percy Tau, Thembinkosi Lorch and Themba Zwane into play more. But the impeccable structure shown by the South Africans has laid a roadmap for future success at a tournament where Bafana have underachieved for decades.
Zungu, perhaps SA’s star of the Nations Cup, was asked what he had learned from the game against Nigeria.
"It’s not finished until the referee blows the final whistle. We need to concentrate the full 90 minutes," he said.
"And we need to grow as players, and realise that we’ve got the talent to compete against the best in Africa. And hopefully in the future we’ll do well.
"In the tournament, we didn’t start well and we picked up against Egypt.
"And I felt tonight, in the first half we gave them a lot of respect. Our plan was to press them high and to press their centrebacks so they couldn’t switch the ball to [winger Ahmed] Musa and the other winger [Chukwueze].
"In the second half I think we improved. We pressed them high, we moved the ball well.
"When we scored we were back in the game. Unfortunately we lost concentration in the end. Very disappointing. but we need to move on."
Zungu said after he scored Bafana began to believe they could win a game they had largely been chasing until then.
"Because we were playing well, it gave us belief. I felt we would probably score a second," he said.
"My goal gave belief. And the team had hope.
"Personally I’m grateful that I was part of the team. I felt I played really well coming back from injury."