Bafana's effort stood out more than their upset win

Tashreeq Vardien (File)
Tashreeq Vardien (File)

Cape Town - I was wrong.

In fact, we all were wrong, but I am only speaking on my behalf here.

After a disastrous 2019 Africa Cup of Nations group stage which resulted in defeats against Ivory Coast and Morocco, a solitary win over Namibia kept Bafana Bafana's hopes alive of making it to the next round.

It was only late on Tuesday (July 2) evening that coach Stuart Baxter's charges were handed a lifeline by qualifying via the best of third-placed teams.

Next up was host nation and tournament favourites Egypt.

I'm sure several South Africans would put money - or did - on Bafana getting a football lesson against Mohamed Salah's Pharaohs.

It was evident that against the Ivorians that South Africa struggled to match the West Africans' physicality.

I went on a long Twitter rant saying that Baxter would need to go back to the drawing board before they played Namibia. I also wrote about the changes that he should make for the match.

Against Namibia, despite having most of the possession, Bafana still lacked any creative spark when attacking and were dumbfounded in the final third of the field.

Against Morocco, South Africa defended for the majority of the game and eventually conceded a goal in the 90th minute. After the game, it was confirmed that Bafana did not even have a single shot on target.

Lastly, throughout all the group stage matches it seems as if there was no intensity, no bravery and no heart in the way they were going about playing and representing a colourful nation.

Therefore, putting money on Egypt winning was your best bet.

Saturday arrived and South Africa's expectations were low.

Mine? Let's just get this over with so I can at least get eight hours of rest on an off Sunday.

Meanwhile, Egypt experienced a slight scare with star forward Salah sitting out training on Thursday evening with illness but on the morning of the match was declared fit to play.

With Themba Zwane suspended (two yellow cards) it was expected that Thembinkosi Lorch would be launched against the host nation.

Just before kick-off, Baxter announced his starting XI and Lorch was starting.

The 2018/19 Absa Premiership Player of the Year was finally being entrusted with minutes at the tournament.

The 25-year-old had his own trending hashtag #LaunchLorch as millions of South Africans urged Baxter to play the Orlando Pirates forward in the group stages.

The Cairo International Stadium was electric with a 75 000-strong crowd cheering on the Pharaohs.

At the full-time whistle, the same crowd was cheering the Bafana players when they left the field after Lorch's 85th-minute winner sealed their quarter-final spot.

A round of applause that was well-deserved but more importantly well earned.

It was a performance that was not expected but received with open arms even if it did result in a defeat.

South Africa outplayed Egypt in their own backyard and Baxter should be applauded for getting the tactics right this time.

Bafana played a high offensive line and pressed the Egyptians when they were not in possession of the ball for the entire game.

Their intensity was admirable.

By the 20th minute, Lorch's influence was evident. How he has not started in the previous games beggars belief.

Prior to the game, Sifiso Hlanti was confident of being able to silence Salah and did a superb job at keeping tabs on the Egyptian star while Thamsanqa Mkhize did some work on quieting the dangerous Trezeguet.

But what balanced out Baxter's tactics was Bongani Zungu's presence. 

His energy and pin-point passing between the box allowed Dean Furman and Kamohelo Mokotjo to do what they do best in keeping things clean across midfield and set up South Africa's counter-attack which they did emphatically.

Percy Tau seemed to have come alive in this match.

Baxter allowed the attacker to operate on the right flank where he created a few problems for the Egyptians. He also came close to scoring a stunning free-kick that Ahmed El-Shenawy parried away.

Lebo Mothiba’s calmness on the ball and inter-play was being made use of and his inch-perfect pass to an energetic Lorch sealed Bafana’s passage to the next round.

Bafana Bafana proved the naysayers wrong. A nation was proud (for proof check social media).

To me, and I am sure to many others, the win was far less important than the performance.

It is what we expect from those players each time they get to represent the country on the global stage.

Out-of-breath performances that show the desire to win every battle on the field and the intensity to stay focused on the task at hand.

Sheer bravery.

However, we're not done yet in Egypt. Next up, rivals Nigeria in the quarters on Wednesday (kick-off 21:00 SA time).

Fans expecting the same... win or lose. 

Tashreeq Vardien works at Sport24 and is a paper basketball dustbin champion... Follow Tashreeq on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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