South Africa AFCON 2023 squad reaction: Can unfancied Bafana Bafana evoke the spirit of 96?

While 2010 may have been the year that put South Africa on the global football map, soccer lovers in the rainbow nation have fonder memories of 1996 when Bafana Bafana won the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil. Our South Africa AFCON 2023 squad reaction assesses their chances of repeating the feat nearly three decades on.

Latest South Africa AFCON 2023 outright odds

South Africa AFCON odds

South Africa AFCON 2023 squad review

This is a squad made up of mostly players who play their club football in South Africa. A couple of the bigger names who featured in our pre-tournament South Africa predicted eleven will not be in Ivory Coast with forwards Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Lebo Mothiba missing the final cut. 

The former is a potential star for this team, but boss Hugo Broos has decided not to pick Minnesota’s Hlongwane due to a lack of match sharpness with the regular MLS season having long since finished.

Burnley’s Lyle Foster is another of the better known South African footballers but the talented young forward has been dealing with mental health issues and it has been decided that the 23 year old will remain in Lancashire in a boost to Burnley’s bid for Premier League survival.

Percy Tau
Percy Tau will be a key man in attack – Photo by Icon Sport

Full South Africa AFCON 2023 squad

Goalkeepers

  • Ronwen Williams
  • Veli Mothwa
  • Ricardo Goss

Defenders

  • Siyanda Xulu
  • Nyiko Mobbie
  • Aubrey Modiba
  • Mothobi Mvala
  • Grant Kekana
  • Nkosinathi Sibisi
  • Khuliso Mudau
  • Terrence Mashego

Midfielders

  • Teboho Mokoena
  • Thapelo Morena
  • Sphephelo Sithole
  • Thabang Monare
  • Jayden Adams
  • Thapelo Maseko

Strikers

  • Percy Tau
  • Themba Zwane
  • Zakhele Lepasa
  • Evidence Makgopa
  • Mihlali Mayambela
  • Oswin Appollis

Surprise inclusions

Mamelodi Sundowns
2023 African Football League winners Mamelodi Sundowns contribute eight players to this squad – Photo by Icon Sport

South Africa’s AFCON 2023 squad features a number of relatively unknown names, at least to those who don’t follow the country’s Premier Soccer League.

There are eight players from Mamelodi Sundowns in the squad and four from Orlando Pirates. Uncapped winger Thapelo Maseko is one of the more surprising inclusions with the 21 year old plying his trade for SuperSport United.

22 year old striker Oswin Appollis is another new name who will be hoping to get a chance to make an impression, having only made his debut in South Africa’s most recent match, a 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Rwanda.

In-form players

Evidence Makgopa
Evidence Makgopa of South Africa in action against Zimbabwe – Photo by Icon Sport

Some of the higher scoring South Africans in their domestic league have not been included and with some of their more accomplished overseas forwards also staying at home, you have to wonder where the goals may come from.

Oswin Appolis and Evidence Makgopa have both netted four times in the South African Premier Division this term, but there may be more confidence in the goalkeeper and the defence which will largely be made up of in-form players from Mamelodi Sundowns who have conceded just three times in 13 league outings this season.

Tactical analysis

Managed by Hugo Broos, South Africa are likely to go with a 4-2-3-1 system, unless the absence of MLS star Bongokuhle Hlongwane forces them into a tactical reshuffle.

Hlongwane started the World Cup qualifiers in November on the left flank and that’s one hole that will need to be filled. In his absence, South Africa may look to get Percy Tau on the ball as much as possible and he could be their main attacking weapon in this tournament.

Tau, who plays for Al Ahly in Egypt, is the most capped and highest scoring player in this South African squad but he’ll need a bit of support from some of the younger players like 23 year old forward Evidence Makgopa who may lead the line.

We can expect South Africa to look to keep it quite tight in tough group games against Mali and Tunisia and they’ll be hoping to at least scrape a draw from one of those matches. 

That would give them a real shot at qualification if they can see off tournament outsiders Namibia on matchday two when a more attacking approach may be employed.

South Africa AFCON squad 2023
South Africa players celebrate scoring against Benin in November 2023 – Photo by Icon Sport

Current odds

South Africa are now available at long odds of 80/1 (81.00) to win the tournament which suggests it’d be a huge surprise if they were to go all the way.

Getting out of the group will be the primary goal and they are priced at 4/7 (1.57) to qualify in a tournament where four 3rd placed teams will progress into the Last 16.

South Africa AFCON trivia

South Africa were banned from playing in the tournament due to apartheid for more than three decades, meaning they didn’t play in the Finals until they hosted the event in 1996.

They won the tournament on their debut in front of passionate home support, reaching 16th in the FIFA world rankings with a strong team that included the likes of Lucas Radebe and Phil Masinga.

Substitute Mark Williams scored both goals in the 1996 Final as South Africa beat Tunisia 2-0, although the year was very much the pinnacle of his international career with the former Wolves forward only scoring one more international goal after 96.

In a group game in 1998, South Africa forward Benni McCarthy scored an incredible four goals in the space of just 13 minutes against Namibia in a 4-1 win. The two sides meet again in Group E at AFCON 2023.

Bafana Bafana reached at least the Semi-Finals in each of their first three appearances in the Africa Cup of Nations, but haven’t got past the last eight since a 3rd place finish in 2000.


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Mark Sochon

Mark is a freelance football writer based in Madrid. He regularly attends and covers La Liga matches around Spain, whilst also following football across Europe.