AFCON 2023: How Mamelodi Sundowns Defence Is Powering South Africa’s Title Run As Nigeria Semi Looms

AFCON 2023: How Mamelodi Sundowns Defence Is Powering South Africa’s Title Run As Nigeria Semi Looms

Joel Reyes
updated at February 7, 2024 at 7:25 AM
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Mamelodi Sundowns
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South Africa
South Africa
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R. Williams
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Siyanda Xulu logo
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M. Mvala
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K. Mudau
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  • South Africa advanced to the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations for the fourth time in their history
  • Bafana Bafana's defence has really stepped up in this year's edition, recording four clean sheets so far
  • Mamelodi Sundowns defenders helped boost South Africa's back-line after a poor start to AFCON 2023

History beckons for Bafana Bafana.

They moved to within two victories of their second AFCON championship after beating Cape Verde in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals.

Powering South Africa's title run is their sterling defence, with Mamelodi Sundowns players forming Bafana's strong back line.

South Africa, AFCON, AFCON 2023, Mamelodi Sundowns, Ronwen Williams,
Ronwen Williams in action for South Africa; Khuliso Mudau and Grant Kekana jump to head the ball. Images: Haykel Hmima/ Fadel Senna.
Source: Getty Images

Sports Brief looks at how they helped transform South Africa in this competition.

Poor start for South Africa

South Africa got off to a horrible start in this year's AFCON, losing 2-0 to Mali in their opening group match.

Percy Tau grabbed the headlines with his penalty miss in the first half that prevented Bafana Bafana from taking an early 1-0 lead.

He wasn't the only one blamed by South African fans, though. Central defender, Siyanda Xulu was singled out by Bafana Bafana supporters for his lack of focus on the defensive end.

The SuperSport United star gave away a foul right on the edge of the penalty box just before the hour-mark, with Mali scoring the opening goal as a result.

Xulu was also at fault for Mali's second goal, as he was easily brushed off the ball by Lassine Sinayoko.

Broos unleashes Mamelodi Sundowns defence

South Africa head coach, Hugo Broos knew he needed to make some changes for his team to have a shot of advancing to the next round.

He decided to bench Xulu for the game against Namibia, replacing him with defender, Grant Kekana, per Sunday World.

Broos was banking on Kekana to form an instant connection with his Mamelodi Sundowns teammates Mothobi Mvala, Aubrey Modiba, and Khuliso Mudau to bolster South Africa's ailing defence.

The switch worked wonders for South Africa, as they have not conceded a goal since the loss to Mali.

They recorded clean sheets against Namibia (4-0) and Tunisia (0-0) to advance to the knockout stage. They then posted shutouts against Morocco and Cape Verde to reach the semi-finals.

Ronwen Williams shines vs Cape Verde

South Africa wouldn't be in the semi-finals without the heroics of Ronwen Williams.

The Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper stepped up big time in the game against the Blue Sharks. He saved four of the five penalties he faced in the shootout to lead Bafana Bafana to the last 4, per CAF.

Mosimane celebrates Williams' historic achievement

Sports Brief also previously reported on Pitso Mosimane celebrating Williams' achievement after his heroics in the win against Cape Verde.

The Sundowns shot-stopper made history in the quarter-finals, becoming the first goalkeeper to save four penalties at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Mosimane praised the performance of Williams on social media, saying that he carried the country on his shoulders to see his country advance.

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Joel Reyes
Joel Reyes is a sports editor at with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of the Philippines. He has eight years of work experience in sports writing.
South AfricaSouth Africa Football Association (SAFA)Pitso Mosimane