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Players celebrate victory and qualification with head coach Hugo Broos after the 2023 African Cup of Nations qualifier game between Liberia and South Africa at Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia, Liberia on March 28 2023. Picture: BACKPAGE PIX
Players celebrate victory and qualification with head coach Hugo Broos after the 2023 African Cup of Nations qualifier game between Liberia and South Africa at Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia, Liberia on March 28 2023. Picture: BACKPAGE PIX

Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos was lost for words after his team booked a place in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals that takes place in the Ivory Coast in 2024.

Bafana pulled off a 2-1 win, secured through goals from Zakhele Lepasa and Mihlali Mayambela, over Liberia at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Stadium in Monrovia on Tuesday to secure their passage to the tournament. 

“It is difficult to express my feelings right now. I feel enormous happiness, there are 100 feelings going through my body at the moment,” said Broos.

Bafana went into the game under tremendous pressure. Last Friday’s 2-2 draw against Liberia at Orlando Stadium, ceding a 2-0 lead, meant any result besides a win away would have left their chances of qualifying hanging by a thread. 

There was also huge pressure on Broos who had proclaimed just after his announcement to the job in 2021 that his employers and South Africans could “kill” him if his team failed to qualify for the 2023 Nations Cup.

“It was a tough game. The style of Liberia is power play, long balls to the front, headers and powerful duels. Therefore we changed some players and brought those who are powerful, like Innocent Maela and Sphephelo Sithole.

“I think it was good to do that. We scored the first goal, but it was a bit unlucky that we conceded a goal from outside the 16m area.

“When we scored the second goal, they [Liberia] didn’t look at anything any more, they just dropped the ball in the 18-area and hoped it fell on their feet. And when you see both games I think we deserved it.”

Broos made five changes, with Maela replacing Aubrey Modiba, Nyiko Mobbie coming in for Themba Zwane, Sithole for Luke le Roux, and Mayambela for Bongokuhle Hlongwane. Lepasa surprisingly came in for Friday’s two-goal hero Lyle Foster, who Broos after the game explained was “not feeling well”.

“It was not good on Friday because we didn’t have enough depth, when we lost the ball there was no immediate pressing. I knew Zakhele is a guy who runs for 90 minutes. 

“He scored a fantastic goal. He is very quick, he was always there for the whole game. And I have to say that Lyle Foster didn’t feel well this morning. We needed players who were 100% and I think the decision was right.” 

The match was level at 1-1 at half time, and Broos said there was no panic in the dressing room.

“The only thing I said was what they had to do, that was what we did in the first half-an-hour; to play in a good block, be strong in duel and look for the possibility to play the ball behind the defence with Zakhele, Percy [Tau] and [Thapelo] Morena [running through]. We tried it and I can only say that what we did in defence was fantastic.” 

The result left SA on four points and in second place to Morocco (six points) in a Group K reduced to three teams by the expulsion of Zimbabwe. Liberia have a point and could draw level on points with Bafana if they beat Morocco in their final game away in September, but then the Confederation of African Football’s head-to-head ruling would see SA remain in second place.

Bafana meet 2022 World Cup semifinalist Morocco in SA in June. 

The 2023 Afcon will be held in Ivory Coast in January and February having been moved from June and July due to heat concern.

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