Bafana’s Hugo Broos must be prepared to shuffle his lineup in crunch Afcon clash

South Africa’s Belgian head coach Hugo Broos (R) indicates to his player Bongokuhle Hlongwane (L) during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying round Group G football match between South Africa and Ethiopia at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg

Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos must be prepared to change his approach if required against Namibia in their Africa Cup of Nations clash against Namibia on Sunday. Seen here: Coach Hugo Broos instructs Bafana player Bongokuhle Hlongwane. Picture: Phill Magakoe / AFP

Published Jan 21, 2024


Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos must take a leaf from his phrase, “only fools do not change their minds” when he selects his starting line-up to face Namibia on Sunday.

Bafana started their Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) group stage campaign on a low, losing 2-0 to Mali in Group E at Stade Amadou Gon Coulibaly on Tuesday night.

The South Africans probably deserved something from the match, but they were let down by the early penalty miss from Percy Tau, and defensive frailties.

Sure, penalty misses are part and parcel of the game, but not recurring defensive frailties from the same position, centre-back.

Centre back problems

However, such has been Bafana’s downfall in the past two official games – including the shock 2-0 loss to Rwanda in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers. Their problems have been at centre-back.

Both centre-backs, Siyanda Xulu and his partner Mothobi Mvala, were responsible for the loss in Korhogo on Tuesday.

Having been initially involved in a defensive mix-up that nearly saw the Eagles take the lead in the first half, only to be saved from the blushes by goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, the duo individually helped Bafana to their downfall.

Mvala conceded the free-kick from which Hamari Traore scored the rebound, before Xulu was outpaced and outmuscled by Lassine Sinayoko for the second goal.

And while those two blemishes might be regarded as jitters in the opening game, Broos can’t afford to risk it against Namibia, where three points are of utmost importance. He must react.

Dropping both players sounds ideal, but it’s perhaps the secondary option of resorting to a “familiar back-five” that could work for Bafana on Sunday.

This would mean dropping only Xulu for Grant Kekana, and having a Mamelodi Sundowns’ back-five that would also include Mvala, Williams, Aubrey Modiba and Khuliso Mudau.

Dropping only Xulu, while reinstating Mvala, would come across as a betrayal of the former, who’s not only one of the team’s vice-captains, but one of Broos’ trusted lieutenants.

Time to find that winning combination

But since the 71-year-old coach already knows that “only fools do not change their minds”, it’s perhaps time to resort to what could be a winning formula.

The Sundowns’ back-five do not only know each other like the back of their hands, but they know African football as well. They recently won the inaugural African Football League, while they were semi-finalists in the CAF Champions League last season.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The quintet will know how to handle club teammate Peter Shalulile and his entourage, which include Orlando Pirates’ talisman Deon Hotto.

Before Shalulile is the Brave Warriors’ captain and striker, he’s a Sundowns’ player. So all that he brings to the national team is cooked in the training grounds at Chloorkop.

Shalulile might not have scored in the winning opener against Tunisia – as they registered their first victory in the Afcon finals – but he was still a nuisance for the defenders.

And guess what? It’s only the Sundowns players who’ll know his strengths and weaknesses, as they train with him week in and week out.

That’s not all. Having ruled the land for the past six years, it’s safe to say Sundowns’ players have won every match-up against the Namibian players who are playing in the PSL top-flight.

And this will include against Hotto, who fired the Brave Warriors to that win over Tunisia. So Broos must do the noble thing: Prove he’s no fool and change his mind about Xulu.


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