Bafana Bafana returned home to a hero’s welcome at the OR Tambo International Airport on Thursday, 20 November with enthusiastic fans singing and dancing as they welcomed the national team back home.
The South Africans were in Nigeria for the last qualifier of the CAF Orange Africa Cup of Nations Equatorial Guinea 2015 tournament.
Bafana Bafana played to a 2-2 draw with the Super Eagles on Wednesday, 19 November in Uyo, Nigeria.
Head coach Shakes Mashaba said he was proud of his charges but at the same time disappointed that they did not finish off Nigeria when they had a chance to do so.
With history on the side of the hosts many had hope it was going to be a one way traffic in favour of Nigeria as has been case over the years – but the brave and relatively young South Africans took the game to Nigeria and raced to a 2-0 lead with goals from Tokelo Rantie.
The silence in the newly-built Akwa Ibom Stadium was deafening as the local fans faced the prospect of the African champion unable to defend their crown won in South Africa last year.
But Nigeria clawed their way back after South Africa lost Reneilwe Letsholonyane for his second bookable offence early in the second half. The Super Eagles scored two goals to level the tie.
“Everybody wants the points and it would have been good if we had won this game with a good number of points at the top of the group. But unfortunately we didn’t do that, we lost the game in the last five minutes – referee’s optional time, which is what worries me, we need to go back and work on it. But our boys did very well, this Nigeria team is a very good side as you saw by their tactical awareness and their match intelligence was from the top drawer, but our boys stood firm,” said Mashaba.
“The red card also disorganised us. You could have seen in the second half that we lost shape. We found ourselves crowding the goal area, though it helped at times but we should have taken the game to them after the red card because we had two breaks and should have scored at least one. Anyway that is how the game goes. We played strong teams in this group, so it says the boys are ready for Equatorial Guinea.”
The Bafana Bafana mentor said the players gave a good account of themselves throughout the entire campaign even they were not expected to.
“When we started the qualifiers there was no mandate but we were asked to build a new side. In life, in whatever you do, you want to succeed. Mandate or no mandate, I would not like to see us building a good side and losing all the games. We have surpassed ourselves (all South Africans) to be where we are today because when it was announced that there is no mandate for AFCON 2015, everyone thought we were going to relax,” added Mashaba.
“I must compliment the boys, they played above themselves. I would not want to write a negative legacy for myself. If we didn’t have to win games then our successors would have no pressure and no targets. So it was important for us to get here for future generations to know what South African football is all about. Everybody wants to leave a mark and I am no different. I must also thank the South African Football Association for all the support given to the team.”