Bafana Bafana’s ‘supporting cast’ delivering on Africa Cup of Nations stage

Grant Kekana has been outstanding in Bafana Bafana’s last two matches. Picture: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix

Grant Kekana has been outstanding in Bafana Bafana’s last two matches. Picture: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix

Published Jan 27, 2024


Bafana Bafana concluded the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) triumphantly as they sealed their place in the next round.

Bafana will continue their Afcon campaign when they come up against Morocco on Tuesday.

The kick-off will be at 10pm. Bafana’s first three games of the competition, although turbulent, also provided goals, drama and upsets, as well as new heroes in various national teams.

The 2023 edition of Afcon has already seen 87 goals, a record for the competition, with Bafana contributing four to that number.

Bafana’s resident “stars” have been in the spotlight since the tournament kicked off, perhaps to their detriment if one takes a closer look at their performances so far.

The likes of Percy Tau (one goal), Evidence Makgopa (no goal), Thapelo Maseko (one goal), and experienced campaigners such as Siyanda Xulu have not yet hit their expected level in the tournament.

The starring performances of creative kingpin Themba Zwane and Tebogo Mokoena have not disappointed thus far, even though their usual partners are yet to hit their stride.

The 34-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns man has won two Player of the Match awards, as well as scored two goals in the three matches he’s played, carrying the torch for an inconsistent Bafana outfit.

The slow start of some of coach Hugo Broos’ most trusted soldiers has left room for other players – who arrived in Ivory Coast as a “supporting cast” – to grab the opportunity and lead Bafana’s fight.

Mamelodi Sundowns duo Thapelo Morena and Grant Kekana began the first game against Mali on the bench.

However, they were handed opportunities against Namibia as the team romped to a 4-0 win, one that placed Bafana in prime position to make the next round of the competition.

Kekana, alongside clubmate Mothobi Mvala, has helped Bafana keep two clean sheets against the Brave Warriors, as well as the much-fancied Tunisia.

The 31-year-old centre-back averages four clearances a game, while also recovering the ball at a rate of 4.5 times per 90 minutes, which nearly places him on par with Mvala, who averages 6 ball recoveries per match and has been arguably one of the best defenders in the competition.

Morena, on the other hand, has offered Bafana a different dimension and allowed dynamic Broos to switch formations as well as playing style.

Moving away from a 4-3-3 saw Bafana become more direct, needing more traditional wingers that work both ways on the flank, which is exactly what Morena provides.