BAFANA BAFANA AFCON SUCCESS: A WIN FOR SOUTH AFRICAN FOOTBALLSouth Africa’s journey in the AFCON tournament was a rollercoaster of emotions, filled with triumphs, near misses and heart stopping moments from the penalty shootouts. Despite a defeat against Nigeria in the semi-finals, Bafana Bafana showcased resilience and determination, securing a bronze medal after a thrilling victory against DR Congo. This achievement marked their first podium finish since 2000, highlighting the country’s journey back to football excellence.The team’s exploits in the tournament showed the calibre of talent within South African football and the strategic leadership of Coach Hugo Broos. Despite initial doubts, Bafana Bafana defied expectations and demonstrated remarkable progress, reaching the semi-finals for the first time in 24 years. Their performance resonated deeply with fans, instilling a sense of pride and optimism for the future of South African football.
Notwithstanding a setback against Mali in the opening match, South Africa rebounded with a dominant 4-0 victory over Namibia, featuring goals from the Mamelodi Sundowns Captain – Themba Zwane, who delivered a first-half brace. A goal from Percy Tau, a former Sundowns player and part of the 2016 champions league winning squad, along with AFL top goal scorer, Thapelo Maseko, guaranteed an emphatic win. The group concluded with a hard-fought draw against Tunisia, with standout defensive performances from captain Ronwen Williams and his back four of Mothobi Mvala, Grant Kekana, Aubrey Modiba and Khuliso ‘Sailor’ Mudau.

In the round of 16 clash against number one ranked Morocco, South Africa delivered a stunning upset, with Evidence Makgopa stunning the tournament favourites early in the first half. Going into the tournament, the expectations were high for Morocco after their historic 2022 FIFA World Cup run which saw them reach the semis after dismantling the Portugal. The highest FIFA ranked team in the tournament was also studded with star players. Teboho Mokoena, the Sundowns midfield maestro, curled a free kick into the top corner in the 95th minute, leaving CAF 2023 Goalkeeper of the year, Yacine Bonou with no chance. That cracker sealed Morocco’s fate and secured South Africa’s victory. The match showcased the team’s tactical discipline and resilience, with key contributions from Mokoena and Williams, who kept a clean sheet. The back four of Mothobi Mvala, Grant Kekana, Aubrey Modiba and Khuliso Mudau proved unbreachable for the third game in a row.

In the quarterfinals against Cape Verde, Williams emerged as the hero, saving four penalties in a dramatic shootout victory. His stellar performance continued in the semi-finals against Nigeria, where he showcased his penalty-saving prowess once again, although the team fell short in a tightly contested match.
The semifinals saw a fierce battle against Nigeria, with South Africa fighting hard to a 1-1 draw in regulation time before succumbing to a 2-4 defeat on penalties, narrowly missing out on a spot in the final. However, the team showed up in the third-place playoff against DR Congo, holding their nerve to secure a goalless draw before clinching a dramatic 6-5 victory on penalties, with Williams once again proving his mettle with crucial saves.
The third-place playoff against DR Congo saw Williams’ brilliance shine once more, with the skipper guiding South Africa to victory in a tense penalty shootout. The team not only walked away with the bronze medal, they also received the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations Cote d’Ivoire Fair Play Award for sportsmanship and fair play. The outstanding performances of Ronwen Williams and Teboho Mokoena did not go unnoticed, as the Bafana Bafana and Sundowns duo earned well-deserved recognition by being selected as part of the Best XI for the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations Côte d'Ivoire 2023. As members of both the national team and Mamelodi Sundowns, Williams and Mokoena have demonstrated their ability to excel on multiple fronts, contributing significantly to the success of both entities. Their inclusion in the Best XI is a fitting recognition of their stellar performances and further solidifies their status as key players in African football. In addition to being named in the Best XI for the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations Côte d'Ivoire 2023, Ronwen Williams achieved another remarkable feat by being awarded the prestigious title of "Goalkeeper of the Tournament."

This historic journey, marked by moments of brilliance and resilience, not only brought pride to South African football but also inspired hope for a brighter future, emphasizing the potential of local talent and the importance of unity and support within the footballing community. As South Africa celebrates its first podium finish since 2000, there is renewed optimism and determination to continue the upward trajectory, harnessing the opportunities within football and fostering a culture of excellence and inclusivity within the sport.

One of the key take aways from this journey is the importance of nurturing and retaining local talent. With a focus on developing home-grown players, South Africa showcased the potential of its footballing ecosystem. Moving forward, there are opportunities for young players to have access to training facilities and support systems. A remarkable achievement, where 20 out of the 23 squad members proudly represent local clubs, has significantly elevated the stature of the domestic league within the African football landscape.

Bafana Bafana’s success serves as a catalyst for further development and investment in our football infrastructure. It is an opportune moment for stakeholders, including football associations, clubs, sponsors, and fans, to rally behind the National Team..
The significant representation of Mamelodi Sundowns in the AFCON tournament, with a remarkable 10 players from the club, not only brought pride to the team but was also a triumphant moment for the entire nation. The success of the National Team at the AFCON tournament has been widely acknowledged, with pundits attributing a portion of this success to the players' experience gained through participation in CAF interclub tournaments. Mamelodi Sundowns' active involvement in continental competitions has undoubtedly played a crucial role in honing the skills, resilience, and competitive edge of its players.