Guts, heart and everything to play for! Bafana Bafana deliver one of their best performances in recent history to beat the nation hosting this year’s Afcon.
Against all odds, Bafana Bafana pulled off the unthinkable to upset hosts Egypt to cruise into the quarterfinals of the Afcon last night.
Almost everyone had expected Egypt to progress at the expense of Bafana, but Thembinkosi Lorch earned South Africa a pass to the Last 8, where they will face Nigeria, who dramatically knocked out defending champions Cameroon with a 3-2 win in yesterday’s other Last 16 fixture.
For starters, Bafana held their nerve in front of a sold-out crowd of 75 000 in the belly of the imposing Cairo International Stadium before they imposed themselves on a team seeking their eighth African title.
It was a game of exchanges right from the start, with each side having already taken a shot at goal as early as the second minute.
But Percy Tau’s two attempts at goal in quick succession were the moments that really gave the home side their biggest scare in the opening half. The Belgium-based striker first tested keeper Mohamed El Shenawy with a long-range missile and later forced another save from the Al Ahly goalie from a well-taken free kick.
These moments gave Bafana some hope, and this was evident in the way in which they attacked without care.
At this point, Egypt were content to absorb the pressure, but responded with threatening moves of their own, albeit on counter-attacks, where Mohamed Salah and Mahmoud Trézéguet each had a crack at Ronwen Williams in goal.
It was clear that the hosts’ coach, Javier Aguirre, didn’t expect his opponents to have a go at them. Maybe the Spaniard had also read too much about how South Africa lumbered through to the knockout stage.
But, to his credit, coach Stuart Baxter heeded the call from the public to inject some life into his team that sneaked into the Last 16 with just three points and one goal to progress as one of the best third-placed sides in the 24-nation competition.
The Brit made two changes to the line-up, handing Lorch his first start in the competition in place of the suspended Themba Zwane.
Although the Orlando Pirates winger’s inexperience showed at times, Lorch’s pace during transitions proved to be a handful for the Egyptians, and he kept his composure to net the only goal of the game.
The tiny winger got to the end of a Lebogang Mothiba through pass during a counter-attack to net four minutes from regulation time to silence the home fans.
Defensively, Bafana were also wide awake and the proof was in how they gave little room to the Pharaoh’s talismans Salah and Trézéguet.
The return to the starting line-up of Dean Furman from injury also provided extra cover as the SuperSport United player tracked back timeously on a number of occasions to share the load with the back four of Thulani Hlatshwayo, Buhle Mkhwanazi, Sifiso Hlanti and Thamsanqa Mkhize.
The indomitable spirit shown by Bafana could perhaps be tracked back to how they often rise to the occasion against the so-called fancied opposition, and their showing against Egypt proved that.
Baxter had said in the build-up to the game that he would let things loose to put the Pharaohs on the back foot, and that master plan came through last night.
Like many South Africans, the Egyptians were critical of how their team played, despite the Pharaohs reaching the Last 16 as group winners in a group that featured Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
Aguirre failed to bring Plan B to the table when his side was on the ropes.
Meanwhile, the Proteas also stepped up to the plate, beating Australia by 10 runs in the Cricket World Cup.