The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024) will come to an end this weekend after a month of delivering breathtaking football and selling the continent to the world.
As is usually the case for all tournaments, all the attention has been shifted towards the AFCON 2024 final, with the third/fourth place game between South Africa and DR Congo relegated to the fringes.
However, a bronze medal is still up for grabs and the winner of that game will also earn a slightly higher cash prize for finishing third in the tournament.
While some have dubbed it as ‘the game of the losers’, the third/fourth place match still holds some significance.
A chance to end AFCON 2024 on a high
It is evident that the stakes are very low for the AFCON 2024 third/fourth place playoff game but it presents the perfect chance for the losing semi-finalists to end the tournament on a high.
Both South Africa and DR Congo were gallant in defeat in the previous round, having given it their all before just falling short.
But success in Saturday’s game stands to take a bit of the pain of losing the semi-final away, while the bronze medal serves as a consolation.
The other argument is that it allows the coaches to play their fringe players. Some players deserved to play more, but the knockout round's competitiveness meant the coaches couldn’t risk featuring any untested players in their starting line-ups.
With the low stakes in the third/fourth place playoffs, both Hugo Broos and Sebastien Desabre could finally field the players who haven’t enjoyed much playing time at the AFCON.
Handing game time to the players who are usually on the bench allows the coaches to see firsthand how they’ll fare while also affording the players some tournament experience.
Building momentum for 2026 World Cup qualifiers
Also, there’s the added motivation of building momentum ahead of the continuation of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
South Africa find themselves in the same group as Nigeria, whom they lost to in the AFCON semi-finals, and Bafana Bafana would be targeting revenge when next they cross paths with the Super Eagles.
Should South Africa beat DR Congo to the AFCON 2024 bronze medal on Saturday, Bafana Bafana will conclude the tournament on a high and will likely carry that momentum into the World Cup qualifiers in June.
The same can be said for DR Congo, who sit in third place in Group B of the World Cup qualifiers, behind Sudan and Senegal, and need a massive boost.
The Leopards need to at least finish among the top two in the group to have a chance of qualifying for the World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
And they won’t have many matches between now and then to get themselves in shape.
That is why both South Africa and DR Congo cannot afford to cry over spilt milk.
They may have lost the chance to play in the AFCON 2024 final, but success in the bronze medal game comes with its own perks, and neither team must take it for granted.
It’s a chance to finish the tournament with a medal and also build momentum for subsequent assignments.