Bafana Bafana captain Ronwen Williams was the hero again as South Africa claimed a 6-5 win on penalties over the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Africa Cup of Nations third place play-off.
Williams saved two spot penalties from Chancel Mbemba and Meschack Elia to give Bafana Bafana the bronze medal in the Ivory Coast after 90 minutes of play ended in a 0-0 stalemate in Abidjan.
Siyanda Xulu converted to give South Africa what turned out to be the decisive advantage in the shootout before Elia’s strike was saved.
Following a goalless quarterfinal, Williams saved four shootout attempts last weekend to help South Africa defeat Cape Verde.
After defeating Tunisia 24 years ago on penalties, South Africa retained a flawless record in the third place play-offs, and the Democratic Republic of Congo will rue missing numerous opportunities in a thrilling match during regular time.
South Africa made three changes from the squad that lost to Nigeria in a penalty shootout following a thrilling three days in the semi-final.
In place of the injured pair Mothobi Mvala and Percy Tau, as well as the suspended Grant Kekana, were Nkosinathi Sibisi, Thapelo Morena, and Mihlali Mayambela.
Only two players from the team that lost to the hosts Ivory Coast in the other semifinal were kept by DR Congo: midfielder Samuel Moutoussamy and captain and center-back Mbemba.
However, eight of the nine players who were benched remained on the pitch, giving French coach Sebastien Desabre plenty of choices if he wanted to make adjustments.
At the Ivorian capital’s Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the Congolese team enjoyed more possession of the ball in the first half but looked more dangerous in the attacking third.
After just eight minutes, the physically powerful Silas Mvumpa came dangerously close to breaking the deadlock, but the custodian grabbed the ball as he attempted to run around Williams in the area.
Halfway through the half, Simon Banza manoeuvred himself into a dangerous position near the South African goal, only to miss with a feeble shot that never really threatened.
It took 43 minutes for South Africa to earn a shot on goal, despite some excellent build-up play, and Mayambela’s effort went straight to custodian Dimitry Bertaud.
Congo appeared to be the team more likely to break the tie as the game entered the halfway point of the second half.
The ball crossed the goalmouth after Williams mishandled it and lost possession, and Silas missed the mark when he ought to have at least struck it.
Mbemba, who had advanced for a free kick, ought to have done the same, but when the ball dropped enticingly into his path near the goal, he crashed over. Fiston Mayele, the stand-in, too threw away a chance.
A $7 million reward is up for grabs as the Ivory Coast takes on Nigeria in the championship match of an exciting tournament that comes to a close on Sunday in yet another venue in Abidjan.
Last month, the nations faced off in the group stage at the same location, with a William Troost-Ekong penalty giving the Super Eagles a 1-0 victory.
Photo by Ladjal Djaffar/BackpagePix