Bafana power into quarters

2013-01-28 00:00

IT could not have been tenser, but Bafana Bafana are through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations following their dramatic 2-2 draw with Morocco at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban last night.

More importantly, Bafana managed to top their group and, even more importantly, they will stay in Durban for their quarter-final on Saturday where they will meet the runners up of Group B.

If they win that, then Bafana will also play their semi-final in Durban.

With Cape Verde coming back to defeat Angola 2-1 in Port Elizabeth last night, Siyabonga Sangweni’s 87th minute equaliser proved to be the goal to send Bafana through.

Had they lost, Bafana would have been out of the tournament and Morocco would have gone through.

Bafana were made to come back twice, with May Mahlangu’s superb strike to make it 1-1 after 71 minutes.

SA coach Gordon Igesund had shown faith in the starting 11 that so convincingly defeated Angola on Wednesday, and it was a move that suggested Bafana would be the same attacking threat they were that day.

But the home side were a picture of nerves in the first 20 minutes and it would prove costly. With the Moses Mabhida crowd absolutely electric when the match kicked off, it was Morocco who started the brightest.

As early as the fourth minute Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was made to produce a fine save when Morocco striker Youssef el Arabi could not convert a one-on-one chance.

A few unconvincing clearances plagued Bafana’s start to the game, and in the 10th minute coach Igesund’s men were unable to clear a corner and Moroccan central midfielder Issam el Adoua headed the ball past a helpless Khune to silence the capacity crowd.

Durban was a state of absolute shock after that, and Bafana heads dropped all over the pitch. But with the opener came Morocco’s decision to drop their defensive line and put all of their players behind the ball.

This gave Bafana more time to dictate play, so much so that at one stage Khune almost walked the ball into the opposition half unchallenged.

This allowed the men in yellow back into the game and it didn’t take long for the crowd to find their voices again. Bernard Parker came closest to levelling matters when he dragged a shot wide right after being put in a good position on the left of goal by Thuso Phala. But for all of their intent, once they had finally gotten themsleves mobile, Bafana would still not have a shot on target for the remainder of the first half.

While Morocco were quite happy to sit back, they always remained a threat on the counter attack and Khune was forced into another fine save when he bravely ran out of his box to take the ball off Kamel Chafni.

The second half proved to be an absolute humdinger.

With the crowd well aware that Angola were leading Cape Verde, it appeared that Bafana would go through no matter what and there was a sense of comfort in the stadium.

Thulani Serero came on for Mphela and had sparked life into Bafana before Phala came close with a curled free kick that was plucked out of the top left corner by Morocco keeper Nadir Lamyaghri.

Khune was forced to make one more world class save when he denied El Arabi yet another golden one-on-one chance.

But all was well in Durban again when Mahlangu popped up on the edge of the area and expertly placed his effort into the top right corner, and the crowd errupted into a roar that would have been heard in all corners of the city.

But the joy was short lived and when sloppy defending from Bafana saw substitute Abdelilah Hafdi put Morocco ahead once more in the 82nd minute, the graveyard silence fell over the Moses once more.

As Cape Verde’s equaliser became common knowledge, the tension in the stadium reached its maximum.

Another goal for them would mean that Bafana’s campaign was over, and all of a sudden second place in the group was looking good.

But Sangweni ensured that the night was Bafana’s with his second goal in as many games — the centre back’s finish once more worthy of a striker’s praise. His side-footed effort eased the nerves of a crowd that had experienced every possible emotion in less than two hours.

It would prove to an immensely important goal for Bafana, given that just seconds later those in the stadium learned that Cape Verde had taken the lead in the dying stages and won their match.

Bafana top the group only by virtue of having a better goal difference than their opponents in the tournament opener, with the head-to-head rule unable to separate the sides following their goalless draw.

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