Ultimately, this is the match no one wants to be involved in. Nevertheless, Bafana Bafana and Les Leopards had the chance to sign off with a win and a place on the podium – a fantastic achievement for either considering they were largely unfancied before the tournament began. In all honesty, though, neither were deserving of a medal based on a dour first half in Abidjan.
There were just two shots on target before the break; Simon Banza’s tame effort from close range was easily gathered by Ronwen Williams, while Mihlali Mayambela’s attempt, albeit far more powerful, came from too far out to challenge Dimitry Bertaud between the DR Congo sticks.
There was slightly more goalmouth action after the break, with DR Congo the more dangerous of the teams. Banza and Grady Diangana fired shots over the bar before Meschak Elia stung Williams’ palms with a long-range strike.
The best opportunity, though, fell to Silas Mvumpa, who could only find the side-netting after Elia had taken advantage of Williams’ howler to pass the ball across the box. In response, Mayambela had a low shot saved by Bertaud, but it lacked the required power to truly test the shot-stopper.
There was a final opening for DR Congo as the end of regular time beckoned, but from a promising position, substitute Fiston Mayele could only volley wide.
Unlike the other knockout rounds, a penalty shoot-out rather than 30 minutes of extra-time followed. Teboha Mokoena stepped up first for South Africa, but despite sending Bertaud the wrong way, his spot-kick hit the post.
However, Williams, who saved four penalties in the quarter-final shoot-out win over Cape Verde was again the hero, thwarting Chancel Mbemba and Elia to clinch the win for his nation.
It has been an incredible journey for the victors, and they will look to build on this moving forward. DR Congo, though, can also be proud of themselves, and they will look to translate their AFCON form into the qualification process for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.