Hlatshwayo: Bafana engine is up and running

Bafana players celebrate after the only goal in their late night win over Namibia at Al-Salam Stadium in Cairo. Picture: Ahmed Hasan/Gallo Images
Bafana players celebrate after the only goal in their late night win over Namibia at Al-Salam Stadium in Cairo. Picture: Ahmed Hasan/Gallo Images

With three points in the bag, Bafana Bafana captain Thulani Hlatshwayo reckons victory over Namibia was the key that was needed to switch on the team’s engine after a stuttering start.

A solitary goal by Bongani Zungu on Friday injected some life back into South Africa’s ambitions for a spot in the knockout stage of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

At most, Bafana need maximum points against Morocco on Monday to be guaranteed a last 16 qualification but a draw could still place them in the running to advance as the group stages’ best third place.

The top two teams across the six Afcon groups will earn automatic qualification, while four best third-placed sides will also advance at the 24-nation continental championships that ends on July 19.

South Africa is among the four sides that are sitting on three points in the tournament alongside Ivory Coast, Senegal and Kenya with Group E and F still to complete their second round of fixtures.

Morocco have all but secured a berth in the last 16 after collecting six points from their two opening matches with 1-0 margins over Namibia and Ivory Coast in Group D.

But Hlatshwayo and his teammates have drawn confidence from a slightly improved performance against the Brave Warriors of Namibia.

CAIRO, EGYPT - JUNE 28: Percy Tau of South Africa
Man of the match, Percy Tau runs in to action as he put on a stellar performance against Namibia. Picture: Ahmed Hasan/Gallo Images

“We had a couple of changes and we moved the ball around, compared to the way we started against Ivory Coast when we couldn’t complete passes.

Now the engine has started to work properly,” said Hlatshwayo.

He and central defence partner Buhle Mkhwanazi made vital clearances to keep Bafana in the game against Namibia at Al-Salam Stadium where Percy Tau also dished out a man of the match performance.

The Bidvest Wits skipper said the narrow margins in the group illustrates the toughness of the group.

With the exception of Namibia, all the other teams won by 1-0, including Morocco’s victory over the Ivorians to hold grip atop the standings on Friday.

“It shows how tight the group is but as a team I think we are starting to get our engines on.

“The confidence is growing.

“Against Morocco, it’s a do or do die. We have to go for three points to make sure that we go to the last 16. Like is said, the engine is switched on.”

Although Bafana only came out firing in the second half against Namibia, their improvement was partly due to the changes that coach Stuart Baxter made in Friday’s match.

He went with Hlompho Kekana and Zungu in central defence ahead of Kamohelo Mokotjo and the injured Dean Furman.

Baxter also surprised all and sundry by starting with Darren Keet in goal ahead of Ronwen Williams - who was the standout performer against Ivory Coast in the first game.

The coach reasoned that Williams and Keet were “suited” for each style of the opposition and rotation was part of the technical team’s plan.

CAIRO, EGYPT - JUNE 28: Bongani Zungu of South Afr
Goal scorer Bongani Zungu revs up before celebrating South Africa's first goal at the Afcon tournament in Egypt. Picture: Ahmed Hasan/Gallo Images

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