Bafana face uphill battle

2008-06-15 00:00

BAFANA Bafana may have shown some potential this year, but the national team are still far from consistent, as borne out by their 1-0 African Nations Cup qualifiying defeat against Sierra Leone in Freetown on Saturday.

South Africa registered their second defeat in three matches in Group Four, though they stayed in second place on goal difference above Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone, each with a win apiece. Nigeria, who have three wins following their 1-0 victory over Equatorial Guinea in Malabo yesterday, are the hot favourites to win the group.

South Africa will hope to finish as one of the best runners-up to go through to the Nations Cup finals in Angola in 2010. But Bafana will need to improve on their insipid form away from home, which included a 2-0 defeat in their opener against Nigeria in Abuja.

The South Africans face Sierra Leone in Pretoria on Saturday and will hope to bounce back with a performance similar to their 4-1 defeat of Equatorial Guinea at the same venue last weekend.

Then Bafana have just one more away game, against Equatorial Guinea on October 10 in their final qualifier, and will most likely need a victory. Before that, Bafana face Nigeria at home on September 9.

On Saturday, South Africa, after a solid enough start, were put under pressure when they conceded a penalty in the 22nd minute, after Bryce Moon hacked down Samual Barlay on the left of the area when the Bafana right-back had no need to not commit himself. AEK Athens forward Mohamed Kallon easily slotted the spot-kick.

The goal took the wind out of the visiting team’s sails for the rest of the first half.

In the second half, South Africa regained some composure and Kagisho Dikgacoi hit the crossbar in the 67th minute. It took a miracle save by Sierra Leone goalkeeper Christian Cualker in the dying seconds of injury time from Surprise Moriri’s point-blank shot to prevent the visitors from earning a deserved draw.

Bafana were missing their three first-choice central defenders — Nasief Morris, Bevan Fransman and captain Aaron Mokoena — and their defence looked shaky. But it was in the midfield that the South Africans again could not get their passes together in an away match, and the stifling heat cannot be used as an excuse again.

Macbeth Sibaya, who stood in for Mokoena as captain, admitted after the game: “It was a big setback [losing]. It means we are now set for an uphill battle to qualify for the finals in Angola.”

Bafana coach Joel Santana, while disappointed, said he felt his side played well.

“It goes like this sometimes in football, when a side controls the game and then ends up losing,” he said. “In the first half we were not playing at 100%. But we got better after half time and should have scored four goals.”

Caulker saved from point-blank range from Teko Modise in the 69th, and then again from substitute Lerato Chabangu in the 81st. The goalkeeper’s superb saves earned his 163rd-ranked side victory.

Group 4

Saturday: Sierra Leone 1 South Africa 0

Yesterday: Equatorial Guinea 0 Nigeria 1.

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