Siyethemba Sithebe, centre, during the Cosafa Cup final match between South Africa and Senegal at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Gqeberha, July 18 2021. Picture: MICHAEL SHEEHAN/GALLO IMAGES
Siyethemba Sithebe, centre, during the Cosafa Cup final match between South Africa and Senegal at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Gqeberha, July 18 2021. Picture: MICHAEL SHEEHAN/GALLO IMAGES

Bafana Bafana have earned the right to smile again after the long-suffering national side beat Senegal on penalties to win the 2021 Cosafa Cup at a stadium named to celebrate Nelson Mandela on his birthday.

This shadow Bafana squad had to dig deep to beat the West Africans 5-4 on penalties after struggling to find a way past the visitors in regulation time.

The oldest man in the Senegal squad, Pape N’Diaye, ballooned his kick over the bar during the penalty shoot-out and effectively ended the contest.

The Senegalese put in a hard shift in Gqeberha to force their hosts into extra time, but when it came to the crunch, Bafana held their nerve.

The sides cancelled each other out during the 90 minutes and extra time.

Man of the match Siyethemba Sithebe was excited after winning silverware in the Eastern Cape and said the outcome, and the accompanying accolade, had given him plenty to celebrate.

“Jah, eish, I am so happy, I'm so happy, very, very excited. Since the start [of the tournament] the team has been working [hard], the coaches, guys, tactical, I will not lie, everybody worked,” he said.

Bafana were expected to struggle as they were depleted, with players at the Olympic Games in Japan, others in Egypt after playing with Kaizer Chiefs in the Caf Champions League final against Al Ahly on Saturday night, and remaining in Europe where they are based.

But after struggling to impose themselves in the initial stages of this 20th edition of the regional event, they emerged victorious. They had put up a strong showing to power past Mozambique 3-0 in their semifinal on Friday night, and reach their fifth final of the regional tournament.

SA, who have often underperformed in the competition, have also never lost when they have managed to reach a Cosafa final. 

Senegal beat Eswatini on penalties in their semifinal.

The competition returned after it was cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) usually invite sides from outside the region to compete as guests and Senegal made such a nuisance of themselves that they gave the hosts a fright in the title decider.

Bafana have had a torrid year after failing to qualify for 2022’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon — the disaster led to the sacking of coach Molefi Ntseki in March — and their success in Gqeberha will have given the side a confidence boost ahead of the more daunting challenges they face in the coming weeks.

New Bafana coach Hugo Broos has sat out the Cosafa Cup as he returned home for his second Covid-19 vaccination soon after his appointment in the beginning of May and has not taken his place on the bench in the team’s recent matches.

He missed Bafana’s friendly against Uganda at Orlando Stadium in June‚ and also did not play a role in the team’s participation in the Cosafa Cup.

The start of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers was postponed to September due to contentious Covid-19 testing protocols‚ and to give African countries time to upgrade their facilities to meet Fifa standards.

Bafana are in Group G with Ghana, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe in the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers. Their journey to Qatar will start against Zimbabwe and Ghana during the Fifa international week in September.​

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