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Bravo to brave Bafana

On a balmy Saturday evening, Moses Mabhida was the place to be as hosts South Africa squared off with Mali in their much-anticipated quarterfinal clash. A capacity crowd shuffled excitedly into their seats, braced for a clash of contrasting styles. The pace and skill of the Southern Africans pitted against the strength and ability of the West Africans.

Gordon Igesund went with his now tried-and-tested combinations; the only enforced change saw Siboniso Gaxa replace the suspended Anele Ngcongca at right back.

The first thirty minutes saw a highly-charged Bafana Bafana side turn their much more physical opponents inside-out. Both Gaxa and Thuso Phala combined well for South Africa and created space out on the right-hand side.

The best chance early on fell to live-wire May Mahlangu, who headed wide from a delightful Gaxa cross. But with all the pressure and possession Bafana enjoyed, a goal had to come and it did. Itumeleng Khune set up the counter attack, the ball fell to Mahlangu who burst into the box and found Tokelo Rantie at the far post. The striker, who has grown in confidence throughout the tournament, side-footed the ball into the gaping net.

Pandemonium broke out and the whole of South Africa celebrated. The home side were a goal up and in control of the game!

The combination of Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Dean Furman continued to blossom. Furman was the man responsible for picking up the dangerous Seydou Keita whenever he floated into midfield and the central pairing of Bongani Khumalo and Siyabonga Sangweni were equally effective at shackling the Malian skipper in the first stanza whenever he ventured further forward.

However, with halftime just minutes away, Mali began to play with more purpose and threatened to dominate for the first time in the match. My player of the match, Adama Tamboura, was outstanding and his marshalling of the back four was a feature of the first half. The tide began to turn before the break and Bafana Bafana were no doubt grateful to hear the blast of the halftime whistle.

Undeterred, Igesund’s men came out of the changeroom buzzing. The control that was missing before the break returned as their midfield slowed down Malian ball. Letsholonyane was proving the dominant figure and the duel in the midfield was clearly going Bafana’s way.

Then, against the run of play, Mali found a way back into the encounter when Gaxa was caught out of position and Mamadou Samassa fed an unmarked Keita who headed home past a despairing Khune.

Locked at 1-1, there was everything to play for as both teams gave it their all in search of the winner. Ninety minutes came and went in a flash, and extra-time beckoned as neither side could find the killer blow.

Extra-time saw both teams fail to capitalise on their half-chances and when the referee called time on the encounter after over two hours of play, both sides slumped to the ground exhausted. The dreaded penalty shoot-out loomed large.

The experience of the Malian side finally told, as the players held their nerve, picked their spot and thumped home three spot kicks to South Africa’s one, which ultimately sent the hosts crashing out of the tournament.

All coaches will testify to the fact that a penalty shoot-out is an awful way to bow out of any tournament. The nation will naturally be disappointed that Bafana’s journey ends here, but Igesund, his technical team and a talented group of players gave everything for the cause. Each member of the side played their hearts out and gave nothing short of one hundred percent effort.

I believe that as the tournament progressed, so Bafana grew in strides and they represented their country with pride. Well done boys! I believe now every Bafana supporter will watch the national side’s progress in the qualifying stages of the 2014 World Cup with great excitement and anticipation.

Now down to the final four sides in this year’s competition, more excitement lies ahead.

Having defeated the star-studded Ivory Coast, Nigeria has laid down a marker. However, the remaining West African sides are all equally as hungry for the title, so keep your eyes glued to SuperSport.

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