Bafana Bafana pay the penalty at Afcon as Mali’s Eagles soar in opener

Bafana Bafana’s Percy Muzi Tau misses his penalty against Mali. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Bafana Bafana’s Percy Muzi Tau misses his penalty against Mali. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Published Jan 17, 2024


This not how it was supposed to be. But at the highest level of the game, failure to take gilt-edged opportunities such as a penalty, you often pay the price.

And Bafana Bafana learnt that much the hard way on Tuesday night when they lost their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) opener 2-0 to Mali at the Stade A.G Coulibaly in Korhogo, Ivory Coast.

Percy Tau inexplicably squandered a spot kick in the first half and that proved South Africa’s undoing against a team that has never been beaten in an Afcon opener, the Eagles scoring two quick-fire goals midway through the second half to go top of Group E alongside Namibia on three points.

A free kick conceded by Mthobi Mvala on the edge of the box rattled the crossbar and Mali captain Hamrai Traore was the quickest to react and slotted home the rebound as the South African defenders slept on the job.

It was soon 2-0 with Mali’s Lassine Sinayoko using his strength to avoid the attentions of Siyanda Xulu to slot home a sweet shot from inside the box. The chance came about after Bafana lost possession as they tried to play the ball out from the back the Mamelodi Sundowns way.

It is a result that puts Hugo Broos’ men under immense pressure as they will have to beat the Namibia, who stunned Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles 1-0 courtesy of a late Deon Hotto goal.

And on the strength or weakness – depending on whose angle you look at it – of the opening matches, the Southern Africa derby is no longer the ‘easy’ three points for Bafana as it had seemed prior to the tournament.

While they were dominant in the first half and looked impressive with the way they knocked the ball about and played with confidence, Ronwen Williams and co failed where it mattered the most – in the final third.

They should have been ahead at the break but incredibly failed to capitalise on a gilt-edged chance just after the quarter-hour mark.

An off-the-ball incident that left Evidence Makgopa bleeding from the mouth after Sikou Niakate elbowed him inside the box as the Orlando Pirates striker anticipated a cross from the left was initially unseen by the referee. But the VAR official brought it to his attention and he duly pointed to the penalty spot to the delight of the handful of South African super fans in the arena.

Tau stepped up and nine out of ten times you’d have bet your house on the Al Ahly man converting the kick. This was the 10th though, and the Lion of Judah disturbed the bats’ flying pattern with a shot that brought the massive Mali crowd that had hitherto been silenced by Bafana’s dominant display with the miss.

Clearly disappointed, Tau later selfishly shot for goal when crossing for the better positioned Makgopa in the box would have yielded a better outcome on 35 minutes. Just before the half time break Tay had his glancing header saved by goalkeeper Dijigui Diarra.

Mali had a good chance of their own on the stroke of half-time following a defensive blunder by Mthobi Mvala and Siyanda Xulu but Ronwen was alert enough to get off his line and block the attempt out for a corner kick.

Early after the break both sides had brilliant opportunities to open the scoring but they wasted what appeared sitters – Makgopa for Bafana and Haidara shooting over from point-blank shot on the other side.

There was no missing the next opportunities for Mali though as they scored those two goals to register a victory reminiscent of the one that saw them knock Bafana out of the 2002 tournament they hosted.

It was their third AFCON success over South Africa, Mali having been victorious via the shoot-out from the penalty spot in the 2013 edition in a match played at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Bafana remain winless in an AFCON opener for the sixth tournament running, South Africa last having won in 2004 against Benin and they now have a tough task in their quest to make the knockout stages.