Williams heroics take SA into Cup of Nations semi-finals

Cape Verde’s midfielder #26 Kevin Pina (L) fights for the ball with South Africa’s forward #11 Themba Zwane during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 quarter-final football match between Cape Verde and South Africa at the Stade Charles Konan Banny in Yamoussoukro on February 3, 2024. AFP

Goalkeeper and captain Ronwen Williams was the hero with four saves in the shoot-out as South Africa beat Cape Verde 2-1 on penalties to reach the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals on Saturday after a goalless draw in their last-eight tie.

Williams had already come up with one vital stop at the end of normal time and the match went to penalties as it finished 0-0 after 120 minutes in Yamoussoukro.

He then produced a remarkable performance to keep out penalties by Bebe, Willy Semedo, Laros Duarte and Patrick Andrade as South Africa — who themselves failed to convert two spot-kicks — progressed to a last-four showdown with Nigeria on Wednesday.

“We were not lucky because we had a very good ‘keeper today. If you can stop four penalties it is not luck anymore,” said South Africa coach Hugo Broos.

“He did not only that, he also saved us two minutes before the end with a player who was alone in front of him, so yes he was man of the match. I think you could choose nobody else.”

The 32-year-old Williams, of Mamelodi Sundowns, refused to accept all the credit for his heroics however, instead giving a nod to the South African backroom team.

“I give credit to the analysts. They prepare me, they cut so many videos. We study the clubs. I study them as well, I try to pick up trends,” he said.

“My phone is full of penalty clips so it is credit to the analysts for doing the work because it is not easy to get footage of some of those players because they play all over the world.”

South Africa go through to their first AFCON semi-final since what can be termed as their glory days, when they won the title as hosts in 1996, were runners-up in 1998 and then finished third in 2000.

Cape Verde coach ‘proud’

Meanwhile, Cape Verde go home at the end of a campaign in which they won a Cup of Nations knockout tie for the first time, although they will regret their poor performance in the shoot-out after having the best chances during the match itself.

“I think in some way we deserved to be in the semi-finals,” said their coach, Pedro ‘Bubista’ Brito.

“I am proud of my team, I think we have had an excellent campaign. We always played to attack, were well organised when we didn’t have the ball, and showed that a small country like us can compete.

“The people of Cape Verde must be proud of what we have done.”

Approaching the Charles Konan Banny Stadium along the deserted wide avenues of Ivory Coast’s capital, it was hard to avoid the sensation that the main event was happening elsewhere, in Saturday’s other quarter-final 100 kilometres further north in Bouake.

The stadium was almost entirely empty at kick-off although fans, many of them wearing the orange of Ivory Coast’s national team, did start flooding in as the game went on.

Those who were absent at the beginning did not miss much, and it took until just after the hour mark for either team to have a clear opportunity.

The chance fell for Cape Verde, with Joao Paulo Fernandes playing in Garry Rodrigues, who could only shoot straight at Williams.

Jovane Cabral hooked a shot over from an inviting position in the 78th minute, and extra time began to feel inevitable.

Yet Cape Verde could have ended it before then when substitute Gilson Tavares Benchimol was played in, but his thunderous shot was tipped onto the underside of the bar by Williams.

It took South Africa until the second minute of extra time to seriously trouble Vozinha, the Cape Verde goalkeeper producing two fine saves from efforts at point-blank range in quick succession, first from Mihlali Mayambela, then from Evidence Makgopa.

Onto the penalties they went, and Williams made the difference.

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