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Written by Oluwaseun Oyediji

It has been an incredible journey at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) for the largely unfancied South Africa, but their dreams of lifting the famous trophy for only the second time ever and the first time this century were dashed in a dramatic penalty shootout defeat against Nigeria.

South Africa

Regardless of what happens in the third place match, the Bafana Bafana have produced their best AFCON performance since finishing third back in 2000, which also came after losing to the Super Eagles in the semi-finals.

South Africa’s journey to this stage has been inspirational as, after a rather middling group-phase campaign which saw them finish second (a win, a draw, and a loss), they went on to knock out pre-tournament favourites Morocco and then Cape Verde.

That may be testament to the team chemistry in this set-up, with nine of Bafana Bafana’s matchday squad against Nigeria plying their trade for club side Mamelodi Sundowns.

What they said

South African coach, Hugo Broos

“Of course let me go back to Wednesday’s game when we played a very great game against Nigeria. It was a great performance from South Africa. The players are a bit tired after playing 120 minutes. Tomorrow’s game will be very tough with the team with mentaly and psychological strength getting the upper hand.

“I have said it before and I will say it again, I am very proud of my team and I am proud to be their coach,” the Belgian said on Friday, 9 February 2024.

“They’ve had a great run in this tournament and have played very, very well. Yes, we did not get to the final as we wanted, but that is football. I am still very, very proud and we continue to fight as we take on DR Congo tomorrow.

“I always try and mix young players with experienced players,” Broos continued. “It was my goal to look into the future as well and think about who will be at the next AFCON or World Cup. We can compete with the best in the world and in Africa, and this team will continue building.

“We played a very good game against Nigeria. It was a great performance and we showed that we are a great team again. When you exit after 120 minutes, it’s always a huge disappointment. When you play so good, the disappointment is so big. The game tomorrow is special. It depends a bit on which team will be mentally recovered because also for DRC, it was difficult to lose like that”.

Defender Siyanda Xulu

“We still have to play and we have work to do,” he said. “We won’t stop until the final whistle. We are a unit, a family, a team that sticks together and we will go out there and give our best.

“We had our own goal as a team. We wanted to go as far as we could. We know very well of our quality and especially from the coach who is one person who has always believed in us as a team. To go this far was our objective. Reaching the semi-final is a dream. Yes, we wanted to take it home, but we couldn’t, but we can be proud of the performance” said Xulu.

Players to watch

Teboho Mokoena has been impressive for his team at this tournament, netting twice on or beyond the 90th minute in the knockout phase.

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Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

A 1-0 defeat to hosts Ivory Coast in the semi-finals saw the Democratic Republic of Congo’s impressive run at this AFCON come to an end, but they do still have the opportunity to pick up the bronze medal for the first time since 2015.

The Leopards required a penalty shootout and then second-half goals to progress from their two knockout ties prior to their ill-fated semi, so they may have to wait for any possible rewards here.

Such rewards are far from a given, as evidenced by DR Congo’s rather uninspiring all-time head-tohead (H2H) record against their South African counterparts (a win, a draw and five losses).

The Central Africans have also lost both previous AFCON H2Hs, though defeat was by a single-goal margin on those two occasions, and perhaps boosting DRC’s hopes will be their 100% winning record in AFCON third-place games (two wins) since the country’s name switched from Zaire.

What they said

DR Congo coach, Sebastien Desabre

“We are very motivated to play this game. When we engage in a competition the objective is to play till the end. This match coming after a defeat but we need to be focused, play to honour this AFCON,” Desabre told journalists during the pre match press conference.

“It will be totally different. The last game was a friendly game after AFCON qualification. We know South Africa and Hugo Broos’ work. We know that it is a team with home based players. It is a good example for an African team to do that. It is good to have home based players in a national team to go far in this competition.

“I think the coach is free to say what he thinks. Our objective is to focus on what we have to do which is to defend the colours of the country and go higher. To do that, we need to win. Whichever game we play be it friendlies, the object is to win the game. We started with 24 teams and now ranked among the best four which is something we are proud of. We want to win the next game which will give us a medal.

“We played a friendly match against South Africa which we lost. This was during the qualifiers against Sudan. After that I will say that tomorrow’s game will be a special one. I don’t know what to expect. The two teams will make changes to ensure that players recover physically and psychologically. We will make sure that we perform much better than our last game.

“All games are important for all Congolese. The fans at home are crazy about the national team. The players know about it and want to give their maximum performance on the field.

“It is true that we brought up strikers during our last match. Changes should be based on how the game is being played. We brought strikers to improve our game. Tomorrow we will use our major tactics. We can’t tell you our major tactics. Our strategy compose of three or more strikers. Let us wait for tomorrow to know how we will play.

“This is our seventh game of the competition. For South Africa to play for 120 minutes might be an advantage to us based on the line up. We are also tired so it will give some players the opportunity to get playing times.

“I think we have played several times in this stadium. I remembered we played against South Africa. We also won a final there. I have good relationship with the people. 40 years ago when we visited the country, we faced some challenges due to civil war. We went to San Pedro and Korhogo and the game villages. Everything was okay. It was a good honour to play this tournament here.

“It is all about the relationship and attachment that player have with the jersey and the country. The government also provided what we needed. There is an element of unity that we are trying to display on the pitch. We have good players and discipline. They played in big clubs. We have Stars in humility. This is a example for all of us. We showed this when playing different games an want to show this for our population. We think of those suffering in the Eastern part of Congo with a need for communion and what was what we did in the semi final.

“We have time to look at things in hindsight. We have some few ideas. I think we got 100 percent from the players. In the semi final, we had chances, a goal was disallowed. We might have been lucky to win the game. I don’t mind people knowing how we play. It showed that we have an identity. This gave us the encouragement to go back to work.

“I see the collectives more than the individualities. The press always look at this from different perspective. You should have reshaped the question that our strikers didn’t score but contributed to us reaching the semi final. They might have scored and we don’t make it to the semi final. We cannot look it that way from individual perspective. The reality is that we have reached the semi final but our strikers have not scored. They haven’t scored but contributed towards the goals we scored. We still have points where we need to improve.

“Obviously you re hungry for more when you are in the semi final but didn’t make the final. We are happy to have gotten here. It was a tight game that might have gone either ways. We need to capitalise on what we have done to improve in the future.

“Dylan can attest to this. When the players arrive, they get the national anthem in lyrics and Whatsapp group. It is important to know the national anthem of the team you are playing for. As a coach working in a country, you owe them that obligation to know the national anthem.”

DR Congo defender, Dylan Batubinsika

“I think we need to be proud of what we have done so far. This is a very good performance. We know that a third place match is important. Winning will be a reward for the effort of the team so far in the tournament.

“I think we have missed feelings following the defeat of previous match. At the same time, we aim to gain that third place medal. It is true that we have the capacity to move further in the competition but we’re unable to do so.

“Playing at home could be an advantage for Cote D’Ivoire. Nigeria is a very good team. This is a final and nothing is done yet while pointing out that home advantage can be to the host favour.

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“I will not lie to you. I was a little bit saddened not to play all the games. We all want to play to give our quota. Even though I didn’t play we had common objective. I congratulate the players for what has been achieved so far.

“I think it was a honour to play against those players that last won the AFCON with the team. They came to our training to give us words of encouragement.

“My message is that I hope that they were proud of us and enjoyed all our games. We saw all their videos on social media. We are happy and proud to make them happy and bring them joy. We hope that tomorrow we will play a good game and have good performance.” He concluded.

Players to watch

DR Congo, Yoane Wissa has scored two of their six goals at this AFCON, once getting his team’s opener.

Each of the last four AFCON third-place play-offs finished 1-0 (twice) or went to a penalty shootout (twice).

Verdict

A slim for either side or game to be decided after 90 minutes.

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