Bafana show fighting spirit

2011-03-28 00:00

BAFANA Bafana have one foot in the finals of the 2012 African Cup of Nations after their dramatic 1-0 qualifying victory against three-time successive champions Egypt at Ellis Park on Saturday night.

Katlego Mphela’s goal in the dying seconds earned Bafana their first competitive victory over the Pharaohs and coach Pitso Mosimane his most important win to date.

South Africa top Group G with seven points from three games and have all but eliminated biggest challengers Egypt, who are rooted in last place with one point.

Egypt might not be the best team in Africa any more, but on paper they are still in the top five. With the January 25 revolution in that country having impacted on their preparations, the Pharaohs came to South Africa intent on reviving their chances of defending their title.

Cautious and defensive, Hassan Shehata’s charges were largely dominant and gave a packed Ellis Park more than a few scares, especially when Mohamed Shawky somehow volleyed wide in the 78th minute from Ahmed Fathy’s corner.

But Bafana absorbed pressure superbly and rode their luck, never allowing the game to slip away from them.

The South Africans were unfortunate, too, with two incorrect offside decisions against Katlego Mphela in the first half. In their best period in the last 15 minutes Bafana forced a double save from goalkeeper Essam el Hadary.

The winning goal came from a player who would not have been available had he not ended a self-imposed exile from club side Mamelodi Sundowns in January.

It was Mphela’s 19th international goal in 38 matches, 14 of them coming in the last two years.

Mosimane was asked what the bigger turning point in the game was, Anele Ngcongca’s pass to set up the strike or the Bafana coach’s trip to Brits to convince Mphela to return to Sundowns.

“When I spoke to [Sundowns president] Patrice [Motsepe] it was not about Bafana, but a need to protect our talent. So I would say the trip to Brits was the biggest one,” Mosimane said.

For Bafana it was a far from perfect victory in terms of performance, though one where tenacity and underdog fighting spirit prevailed against greater class.

Egypt started with their biggest-name creative players on the bench, midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika because of loss of form and striker Mohamed Zidan due to a recent return from injury at Borussia Dortmund.

But key players for South Africa were also not in their best shape.

“Physically we were not up to standard, especially ‘Shabba’ [Siphiwe Tshabalala], who showed that he hasn’t been training for the last two weeks,” Mosimane said.

“But we wanted him in the field of play because it’s important and the Egyptians fear him. [Steven] Pienaar you could see only started training on Wednesday.

“Kagisho [Dikgacoi] still needs games to be up to standard and Mphela’s not at his best — I think the period that he didn’t play at Sundowns also taxed us. But his speed gave us a break at the end.”

Certain positions still need strengthening for the South Africans, too. In midfield passing moves too often broke down when Golden Arrows’ Thanduyise Khuboni gave away the ball and the same could be said up-front for Bernard Parker.

“Technically we showed that there’s still more to do. In some periods we just could not pass as swiftly as they did, and there’s room for improvement,” Mosimane said.

“But we all know why — it was because we played a very experienced team.

“I think it was a big chess game. I always said it was going to be emotionally exhausting.

“A good win against Egypt is not an ordinary win — it’s a big win against a team that has tormented the whole of Africa for the last six years.”

South Africa’s next fixture is the return match against Egypt in Cairo in June.

Group G

Saturday: South Africa 1 Egypt 0, Niger 3 Sierra Leone 1

 

 

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