The rise of Bafana: Makgopa shines in elimination of Atlas Lions

The performance of Orlando Pirates striker Evidence Makgopa, who is on fire at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Ivory Coast, does not surprise Alfred Maimane Phiri, a former midfielder for Bafana Bafana.

African football fans took notice of Makgopa when he scored the first goal in Bafana’s 2-0 victory over Morocco, known as the Atlas Lions, on Tuesday night.

Teboho Mokoena scored the second goal in the dying minutes of the match.

In his initial Bafana matches, Makgopa drew harsh criticism, but he is now intensifying his play and bearing the hopes of South Africa on his small frame.

Bafana have managed to keep a clean sheet in each of their subsequent three games since their disastrous tournament debut, in which Mali destroyed them 2-0 in Group E’s opening match.

After Mali’s defeat, South Africa ruthlessly defeated their neighbour Namibia 4-0, and finished the group stages with a goalless draw that eliminated Tunisia from the competition.

They then defeated the formidable Morocco, who are currently the most feared football team in Africa, in what will go down as one of Bafana’s greatest wins in the competition’s history.

Phiri, who represented Bafana in the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, claims that Makgopa’s bravery and tenacity impressed him enough that he knew the young man was destined for greatness with just one look.

Makgopa will be confident going forward

“He was 15 years old but already playing for the Baroka FC Under-19 side at my tournament, the Maimane Alfred Phiri Games in Alexandra,” Phiri told Sunday World after Tuesday night’s victory.

“I was a little worried, but when I saw him play, I was impressed that this kid is brave and fearless. I then came to the conclusion that with the right people around him and with the best training, he will turn out to be a big player.”

“I am not surprised at how he plays against the big boys. He just needs to be polished a little bit. But he has broken his Afcon ice, and he will be very confident going forward.

“He is also playing with a lot of Mamelodi Sundowns players, who are experienced when it comes to playing in CAF competitions. We can all see that Bafana is benefiting from Sundowns’ success on the continent.

“The fans must continue to rally behind them and not complain that there are only Sundowns players in the team; after all, they are the most successful team in the PSL [Premier Soccer League], and it makes sense to have the majority of them.

“The boys are no longer scared, and I am confident that they can beat Cape Verde [in the quarterfinals on Saturday].

“South Africa is now the team to beat, and I see them going all the way in the tournament. But it’s one game at a time, and I hope that the technical team has another strategy and good tactics for Cape Verde.”

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