It was a year to remember and forget for Bafana Bafana. The successful hosting of the Africa Cup of Nations and a semi-final appearance at the Cosafa Cup was followed by the disappointment of failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. However, the year ended on a triumphant note, with the side’s historic win over world and European champions Spain providing new hope of a bright future, a future where South Africa will be a competitive force in world football once again.
The team has shown signs of improvement under the iron grip of coach Gordon Igesund. Igesund’s mantra of attacking football breathed new life into a side which was struggling for confidence and lacked a fighting spirit. The coach has been an influential figure, bringing in new talent and instilling tactical discipline into his blend of youthful and experienced players. Bafana Bafana has regained an identity, which is allowing the team’s top performers to shine.
Itumeleng Khune, captain and expert shot-stopper, has been a leading figure in the Bafana ranks during 2013. The goalkeeper’s self-belief and bountiful enthusiasm for the game will have spread throughout the squad, with Khune serving as an inspiration. After Steven Pienaar’s retirement and Bongani Khumalo’s brief stint as captain, Igesund did not hesitate in placing the responsibility on Khune’s shoulders and the keeper has remained at his prolific best during 2013. A match-winning performance against Spain merely proved that the keeper will be a key component in Bafana Bafana’s resurgence.
In defence, Thabo Matlaba has been a notable inclusion down the left flank, with his pace and powerful shooting ability troubling oppositions. The inclusion of Bloemfontein Celtic stalwart Thabo Nthethe may have surprised many, but the Siwelele captain has been a strong figure in the central defensive areas. Nthethe impressed in the Cosafa Cup, along with youngster Buhle Mkhwanazi, who has been handed regular call-ups since his performances in Zambia.
Siyabonga Sangweni had a storming start to the year for Bafana Bafana, with not only being imperious in defence, but also scoring important goals in the Africa Cup of Nations. The Pirates central defender’s promising start to the year has been hampered by injury, which meant he could not feature on a regular basis. Lastly, Anele Ngcongca has been a consistent starter as right full-back and is a vital element in the national side’s defensive unit.
The midfield has seen a number of players come to the fore in 2013. Notably, Gordon Igesund’s identification of Dean Furman has reaped rewards, with the Doncaster Rovers midfielder’s high work rate, sturdy tackling and passing skills serving the national side well.
Siphiwe Tshabalala remains as a force to be reckoned with as an impact player, bringing his experience and destructive left-boot to the party. May Mahlangu was an electrifying addition to the Africa Cup of Nations squad - his memorable strike against Morocco helping Bafana qualify for the quarter-finals - but injury has cut short his time with the national squad during the year. This has meant Gordon Igesund has searched for an ideal replacement in the attacking areas of midfield, and his recent selection of Oupa Manyisa and Daylon Claasen is proving to pay dividends for the national side.
The emergence of Bongani Zungu and Kamohelo Mokotjo has also caught the eye, with both of the youngsters showing class beyond their years. Ayanda Patosi is another exciting prospect for Bafana Bafana, while the controversial yet brilliant Thulani Serero should make a comeback into the side sooner rather than later.
Striking options may be few and far between in South African football, but Gordon Igesund has managed to find a reliable pair in the form of Bernard Parker and Tokelo Rantie. Rantie is earmarked to become a future superstar for Bafana Bafana in the final third, with the striker’s blistering pace making him a dangerous prospect for any opposition. Parker has remained a constant threat for the side, and his recent winner against Spain could be seen as his finest moment in national colours.
2013 may have been filled with disappointment, but a number of Bafana Bafana players have begun to show their true potential and Gordon Igesund will hope to continue building towards the “new era” of South African football. The recent blooding of talented young players will eventually pay dividends for the team, which is looking to regain its status as an African footballing powerhouse.