Bafana exit with heads held high

2013-02-04 00:00

IT was fun while it lasted, and maybe we all got a little bit too excited too quickly. Bafana Bafana’s brave run at the African Cup of Nations came to an end on Saturday night in the cruelest way possible — via a penalty shootout.

Bafana had scored first against Mali through Tokelo Rantie in the 32nd minute, but when veteran playmaker Seydou Keita equalised for the visitors just before the hour mark, the wind was knocked out of the Durban sails somewhat.

With the sides deadlocked at 1-1 after 120 minutes, the sides were forced into penalties and Bafana, dare we say it, choked.

With only substitute Siphiwe Tshabalala converting his spot kick, Mali cruised to a 3-1 victory in the shootout and Bafana were left in a heap of despair on the Moses turf as the clock neared midnight.

Dean Furman, May Mahlangu and Lehlohonolo Majoro all failed to convert their penalties — ironic, considering they were three of Bafana’s shining stars throughout the tournament.

At half time, coach Gordon Igesund would have thought that a semi-final berth was very much on the cards after witnessing his side play some of the best football we have seen from them in recent times.

Quick transitions, aided by an extremely lively Mahlangu, were the order of the day and Bafana dominated possession and had the lion’s share of the chances. But the frantic tempo that Igesund was playing at, while making for some exciting football, may have been his downfall as the Malians got stronger as the match went on while Bafana tired.

The physical strength of the West Africans would also become noticeable and there were more nervy moments for Bafana than Mali from the time the second half kicked off.

It was a defeat that brought back memories of the Lance Klusener/Allan Donald shenanigans of the 1999 Cricket World Cup, but one that Igesund can look back on with his head held high.

“I think we lost with pride, dignity and passion. Today my players gave me everything. I think we played the best game we have played in a while and you usually wouldn’t be losing a game when you play that well,” a visibly distraught coach said after his side’s tournament exit.

Igesund added that he was extremely satisfied with the strides his side had made over the course of the tournament and that they would continue improving throughout the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, which resume in March.

“We haven’t had a lot of time together as a team and I feel we have come a long, long way. I’m sure that we can move forward from here and I think this team has a bright future,” said Igesund.

That, of course, all depends on whether a historically unpredictable Safa decides to keep faith in Igesund. However, it is hard to see him given the boot after the clear improvements that have been made in the side.

Bafana captain Bongani Khumalo was equally upset, but had a word of thanks for the nation.

“Obviously we are very, very grateful to the support that we have had in this city [Durban] and all over the country,” he said.

“We had a lot of positivity around us, but there is still a lot of work that we have ahead of us and we will definitely need the country’s support going forward.”

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