Bafana Bafana is a team that has generally struggled for goals in the past. A feature of the team that has proven crucial to their past failures after the golden generation of the 1990s.
One just has to think back to the time when South Africa’s senior men’s soccer side erroneously celebrated qualifying for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations following a nil-all stalemate versus Sierra Leone in 2011.
In that instance, a comfortable win — as opposed to the draw the team infamously celebrated — would’ve done away with all the calculator work that was required as a result.
Over the years, with goal strikers in the mould of forwards such as Benni McCarthy and Shaun Bartlett at a premium, goals have become tougher to score.
Even 10 years after that incident, goal scoring continues to be a concern. Current national team coach Hugo Broos has lamented his side’s inefficiency in front of goal.
Had they been more efficient, they may have made it into the third round of 2022 Fifa World Cup qualification. Instead, in spite of winning four of their six group matches, they finished level on 13 points with eventual World Cup participants Ghana.
If they had been more efficient in their opening match against neighbours Zimbabwe in September 2021 — which ultimately ended with a 0-0 draw — they would have pipped Ghana to top spot in their group. They did not.
They also beat Ghana a few days after that. But in spite of dominating that game in Johannesburg, they only managed a 1-0 win. They could have easily recorded a more comfortable victory, if not for their profligacy in front of goal.
That result also came back to haunt them. Because it’s not every game that one finds a Ghana team that is there for the taking like the Black Stars were during the qualification campaign.
An emphatic win would have seen Bafana likely qualify on the basis of having scored more goals than the Black Stars. Essentially, they missed out on reaching the next round of qualification by netting six goals in the six matches. Ghana scored just one more.
Of course, at that time, the general feeling was that the team was still taking to the ways of Broos. The Belgian had taken over the reins just a few months prior to the qualification campaign kicking off.
Nevertheless, the side suffered another scare en route to reaching next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Ivory Coast.
They only needed to beat minnows Liberia twice to ensure they qualify for the next Afcon, after missing out on the previous edition. They drew 2-2 at home, in spite of cruising for most of the match and creating ample scoring opportunities.
Burnley striker Lyle Foster, who a few weeks ago, became just the ninth South African to score in the English Premier League, was the one who put Bafana in cruise control during that two-all draw.
He scored twice to put SA in a 2-0 lead in the first half. Then came the second-half collapse that left Broos livid — to the point where he snubbed media questions on the match.
“I will not give any answers on this game. There’s too much disappointment and too much anger in my body. If I say now what I think, it would not be nice,” the Belgian said in March 2023.
The team managed to beat the Liberians in the reverse fixture. Allaying the frustrations of Broos.
Now, as Bafana builds up to what has become a rare Afcon appearance over the last decade, there will be pressure on Foster to spearhead the team’s attack. With hopes that they can perform and reach the latter stages of the competition.
This is the same Foster who regularly came under the spotlight from couch coaches and naysayers in the early part of his soccer career. Especially after he had been propelled to Orlando Pirates’ first team not long after his 17th birthday.
Some social media trolls masquerading as soccer experts insinuated that he did not belong on a soccer pitch and that he should find a different career to immerse himself in — all while he was still trying to find his feet and adjust to the rigours of professional soccer as a teenager.
But he blocked out all this noise and kept growing, despite all that negativity. Now he has scored two of the three goals that his English employers Burnley have managed from their three Premier League games.
“He must just keep growing and learning,” said Al Ahly forward Percy Tau on Foster. “I am proud of him and I just want to see him keep growing.”
Over and above Tau and Foster, Broos can also call on the likes of Strasbourg star striker Lebogang Mothiba. As well as on-form Orlando Pirates forward Zakhele Lepasa and Cyprus-based Mihlali Mayambela as he seeks to sharpen his attacking options ahead of Afcon. DM