How Bafana Bafana can beat Liberia versus how they can shoot themselves in the foot … again

Bafana Bafana’s Bongokuhle Hlongwane will be a player who will need to perform if they want to book their place at Afcon 2024. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Bafana Bafana’s Bongokuhle Hlongwane will be a player who will need to perform if they want to book their place at Afcon 2024. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Mar 28, 2023


Cape Town - Bafana Bafana have seemingly turned what appeared to be one the easiest ways to qualify for an Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament into an anxiety-filled mess.

Bafana’s calamitous final 20 minutes against Liberia last week has thrown their chances of qualifying up in the air as they face an uphill battle in needing to secure their spot away in Monrovia.

Coach Hugo Broos and his charges will need to rid themselves of the emotional turmoil of their previous encounter when the two sides reconvene again today (6pm kickoff).

Why they will succeed

Bafana are still the favourites against a Liberian side ranked 150th in the world.

Although guilty of not being able to finish the job, the likes of Themba Zwane, Percy

Tau and Lyle Foster showed the difference in quality between the two sides on Friday night.

Bafana registered 17 attempts on goal but only five were on target – an indication of their ability to carve out opportunities against Liberia but an inability to convert them.

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If not for an unexpected late resurgence from the Lone Stars, Bafana were coasting to an easy victory simply because of their superior quality.

Bafana’s travelling squad will also be boosted by the experience some of their biggest stars obtained in their expeditions at club level.

Of the 23-player travelling contingent, only five players have no prior experience of playing continental football, which should bode well for Bafana in hostile conditions.

The Mamelodi Sundowns representatives have already shown their guile over two legs against Egyptian giants Al Ahly, and if they are able to share their know-how, half the mission will be achieved by Bafana.

Bafana are capable of defying the odds and qualify for next year’s Afcon finals but only if they play to their full potential.

Why they will fail

Bafana’s ability to deal with mind games, intimidation and physicality could be their undoing in Monrovia tonight.

Coach Hugo Broos has done a fine job rebuilding the team, but the mental area seems to have been neglected.

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In September 2021, Bafana scored an upset 1-0 win over four-time African champions Ghana in a World Cup qualifier in Joburg.

Bafana kept Ghana quiet and only allowed them three shots on goal. In contrast, Bafana had 15 shots on goal.

Then, in November, when Ghana’s qualifying hopes were hanging by a thread, they bossed and bullied Bafana as they won 1-0 to knock Bafana out.

As the match wound down, Bafana lost focus and would have sensed the frustration of Broos, who can be utterly dramatic.

Now, in March 2023, nothing has changed, it seems.

On Friday, underdogs Liberia hit their hosts with some physical play and the tactic worked wonders, even though South Africa enjoyed a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Player-for-player, Bafana were the better team but failed to deal with the physicality.

Czech Republic-based midfielder Oscar Dorley was the only Liberian to impress.

The rest had average performances but kept challenging to the end and secured a 2-2 draw.

In the second half, Liberia made five substitutions and the fresh legs kept running at Bafana, who, after taking a 2-0 lead, had many scoring opportunities but lost their touch in the final third.

There was nothing wrong with the side Broos sent out but the coach’s substitutions failed to make an impact.

Bafana’s team for today’s game may show a change or two, but unless there is a shift in mental fortitude, Liberia will score their first win over South Africa.