Heartbreak as brave Bafana Bafana miss out on Afcon final spot

Bafana Bafana were knocked out of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) after they succumbed to a heartbreaking 4-2 defeat by Nigeria via penalty shootouts during their semi-final clash on Wednesday night.

South Africa will now play for the bronze medal against the losers between DR Congo and hosts Ivory Coast, who played their semi-final match after the SA v Nigeria encounter. The third-place play-off match is on Saturday.

Bafana coach Hugo Broos named one change from the side that went past Cape Verde at the weekend. Defender Siyanda Xulu replaced Thapelo Morena, and the coach opted to go with a 5-4-1 formation against an attacking 3-4-3 team assembled by Nigeria coach José Peseiro.

Like in their opening Afcon encounter against Mali in the group stages, Bafana had a sublime first half and created enough goal-scoring opportunities to have gone into the lead against the Super Eagles.

In the 25th minute, Percy Tau got a golden opportunity and could have put Bafana ahead when the ball fell on his favourite left foot inside the box, but the Al Ahly star fired a tame shot that went straight at Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali.

The South Africans kept on banging on the door, and striker Evidence Makgopa forced a brilliant save from Nwabali which took the game goalless into the break.

The second half was equally heated and tactical from both sides, as the Super Eagles and Bafana took the game to each other.

However, Bafana’s resilient defence cracked in the 67th minute when captain William Troost-Ekong broke the deadlock from the penalty spot after Mothobi Mvala brought down striker Victor Osimhen inside the box.

Broos reacted and made some changes, which saw Themba Zwane and Xulu make way for the attacking duo of Mihlali Mayambela and Zakhele Lepasa.

The game opened up as Bafana were desperate to find an equaliser while Nigeria were looking to put the game to bed by getting the second goal of the match.

Indeed, the Super Eagles found the back of the net in stoppage time through an Osimhem tap-in. However, their celebrations were cut short when the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) came to the rescue of the South Africans and ruled the goal out for a foul on Tau inside the box on the other end. This resulted in a penalty in favour of South Africa.

In-form midfielder Teboho Mokoena confidently stepped up and rattled the net by sending Nwabali the wrong way to level matters and take the game to extra-time.

The 30 minutes of extra time could not separate the two sides, as they had to settle the game in a penalty shootout to proceed to the final on Sunday.

Mayambela and Mvala converted their spot kicks, while Mokoena and Makgopa missed their penalties as brave Bafana missed out on a spot in the final after an impressive tournament.

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